Book Review 2008 #27: Majestrum

My latest book is another volume in Matthew Hughes’ expanding oeuvre about his Dying-Earth like world of the Archonate, Majestrum.

As I have mentioned in previous entries on my blog, Matthew Hughes is a writer whose main body of work revolves around a far future earth which might be usefully thought of as taking place an eon or two before Vance’s Dying Earth. Science is still the dominant force in the universe, but there are suggestions that Magic is waiting in the wings, and the sun, while bright, has changed to a deeper orange color.
Into this realm, in this book, strides Discriminator Henghis Hapthorn. Possessing a strangely transformed AI, now in the form of a wizard’s familiar, and in addition, a split personality in the back of his mind, Henghis is the foremost freelance investigator in the world, if not the entire “Spray” of inhabited worlds.
In the course of Majestrum, Henghis is contracted for a number of cases, which, while at first seem to have nothing to do with each other, in the end start to draw together into a single whole tapestry that the Archonate’s answer to Sherlock Holmes slowly brings to light…
Henghis is a very droll character in an very interesting world. Hughes’ voice and writing have improved and developed. He reads less like a pastiche of Vance and more of a voice in his own right. While fans of Vance (like me) will find much to love here, Hughes’ writing is much less aping him and rather more nuanced homage and commentary. I enjoyed the character and his adventures with a most satisfactory and catholic thoroughness. And more importantly, the little details of his worlds. For example, the way the aristocracy limits their interactions with their perceived inferiors and how to get around that:

“Say that I will be presently,” I said. I went to a wall cabinet and brought forth a cincture of woven metallic fibers; I bound it around my skull so that a lozenge fixed to its mid point was centered on my forehead. The small plaque was inlaid with the insignia of a honorary rank that had been bestowed on me by the Archon Dezendah Vesh some years before, in gratitude for discreet services.
I signaled to my integrator that I was ready. Instantly, a screen appeared in the air before me and, a moment later, it filled with the aristocrat’s elongated face. His abstracted gaze seemed to slide over me as if unable to get a grip, then managed to achieve focus. It was to assist Lord Afre’s perception that I had donned the Archonate token. Members of the uppermost strata of Old Earth’s human aristocracy had, over the millennia, become increasingly attuned to such symbols. They could see rank quite clearly, and could perceive details of clothing and accessories so long as they were fashionable. Persons who possessed neither title nor office often found it difficult to attract and hold their attention, although their household servants were able to do so by adopting specific postures and gestures while wearing livery.
Afre’s pale and narrow lips parted, permitting a few words to escape in the drawl that was fashionable among the upper reaches of Olkney society. “Hapthorn? That you?”

Once again, I look forward to reading even more of the Archonate (and in fact my next book completed will also be by Hughes, a book of stories mainly set there). Fans of Vance, especially, shouldn’t miss Hughes’ work.