I pursued this book high and low and finally fettled a copy with the depressing word ‘discard’ on the back. Thereafter I have taken ages to read it, in the same way that one tries to make a particularly delicious ice cream last.
This is the first full length novel about Willrich’s delightful pair of characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone. I first met them in short story form and was bowled over by them and their adventures. Hence my quest, when I discovered they existed at longer length. They make guest appearances in various SF and fantasy magazines over more than a decade, so I am hoping that Willrich collects all their adventures together at some point.
What is so great about these characters? Well, obviously, it is what Willrich has made of them. They inhabit a world (at times, worlds) which Willrich has teased out of our Far East, but with subtle differences and shifts which mean that just when you think you have a handle on the what, where, why, when, how and who of it, the whole thing gives a shake like a wet dog and you end up in a different ambience altogether. There are dragons (I love dragons) and then again, perhaps they aren’t dragons. There is magic, and belief systems that one wishes really existed, and true love and honour, and extraordinary feats of physical daring and strength, and immortality and death, and a scroll into which one may enter and live. It is the scroll that provides the heart of the book. Gaunt dives into the scroll when in extreme peril. But a scroll is, itself, a fragile artefact – will it survive?
Willrich’s plotting is delightful. But it is his turn of phrase which never flags. He constantly draws in allusions and permits himself excursions around his own plot which, nevertheless, do not slow pace nor obfuscate the plot. This is clever work. The result is thought-provoking as well as a rollicking good fantasy story. Here is a short extract, taken at complete random, to show what I mean. Any page would give as good an example:
“’Is this place a sort of dream?” Gaunt asked. “Or am I truly in another universe?”
He laughed. “Every place is a sort of dream. But more to your point, this place is normal.”
Now Gaunt laughed. “Having arrived via art appreciation, I question that view.”’
‘About the author’ assures the reader that Willrich is now writing full time. I should jolly well hope so. I am awaiting your next novel with breath bated, Mr Willrich …