My Fifty first, and probably last book of the year, won’t be available to the general public for several months (and I will talk more about it again as publication date approaches).
The author is L. Jagi Lamplighter and the book is Prospero Lost, first in a trilogy of novels, Prospero’s Daughter.
Shakespeare is a very common subject for fantasy. The fact that he has some fantasy within his own plays has proven inspirational to other authors using him and his works as inspiration for their own stories. I’ve read and am aware of a number of these. Sarah Hoyt’s trilogy involving Shakespeare’s interactions with Faerie. Elizabeth Willey’s trio of novels had a Prospero as a sorcerer and estranged part of a world-spanning family, creating a land instead of exile on an island. My friend Elizabeth Bear has mined this territory in the back half of her Promethean Age novels (although she is as much a fan of Kit Marlowe as Shakespeare).
Into this field has waded L. Jagi Lamplighter. Her husband is John C. Wright, whose own style and tastes range from the Golden Age trilogy, through the Orphans of Chaos trilogy, to, of all things, a sequel to a Van Vogt novel. It would be a mistake to think, though, that Lamplighter’s style and sensibilities are a clone of her husband.
No, what she has created in Prospero’s Lost is quite different. Modern Day, Our Earth Fantasy is very common these days, but it seems that every other book in the F/SF section is a Vampire novel, one way or another. Fantasy is in ascendancy over Science Fiction, and Vampires are leading over other types of fantasy.
Thankfully for me, Prospero’s Lost is a fantasy of a different type. It might be helpfully be classified as a Secret Arcane History. In Lamplighter’s universe, there is a hierarchy of arcane beings with the detail and complexity of a Gnostic universe. The novel’s heroine, Miranda, tangles and meets with demons, elves, elementals, magicians, and even Santa Claus (a depiction that reminded this reader of the Narnian version as much as traditional depictions). There are references to unicorns, angels, and other beings between Man and God. The universe is a Christian universe and Protestant-Catholic theology comes into the plot, however, Lamplighter effectively populates the spaces between Demons, Man, Angels and God. Most people in this world have no idea of these beings, of course. In that sense, I wonder if Lamplighter has read the RPG Nobilis for some inspiration on the complex mythology.
The story is the growth and development of Miranda.Devoted daughter of her father, Prospero, ageless and virginal, the disappearance of her father spurs her out, in true Hero fashion, from the comfort of her home to find her diasporatic siblings, in a quest to find (and save) her father. Along the way, in a fashion that reminded me a bit of Pratt and De Camp, we have an elemental modeled along the lines of a noir detective, a modern day Circe, an aging demon hunter, hell hounds, narrow escapes, adventures and Christmas Dinner at the House of Santa Claus. Flashbacks, that help establish the characters and their motivations. And the Three Shadowed Ones and the mystery of just what happened to the patriarch of the clan.
Okay, I’ve gotten this far without invoking Mr. Zelazny but I will now. Lamplighter is a fan of Zelazny (she cut her teeth on the ADRPG) and although these are new characters, on a Secret History Earth, the influence of Zelazny on this novel is similar to, say, the aforementioned Elizabeth Willey novels. The author clearly has read and loved Roger’s work (like her husband does) and it has flavored this work (again, like John’s Orphans of Chaos). It was a conscious effort on my part to decide that the Circe-like sister to Miranda “is definitely not Fiona after all”. So don’t come to this book looking explicitly for Jack of Shadows or Corwin analogues, but people who devour Zelazny’s oeuvre will definitely appreciate Lamplighter’s sensibilities and writing.
It’s a first novel, so I expect the first-novel writing (which might also be a consequence of reading an ARC) to improve in subsequent novels. This book was a fitting and highly pleasurable way to end the year.
Watch for it.