No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, April 20, 2007

#9: The White Tyger -- Paul Park

Read for (overdue) Vector review -- so this'll be the more subjective version, and I may also post the actual review after publication.

This is the third in Park's 'Roumania' series (following A Princess of Roumania and The Tourmaline). For some reason I'd expected this to be a trilogy, rather than a quartet, so I was increasingly distressed by the lack of resolution! Mea culpa, though. This one's entirely my own doing.

The White Tyger moves the focus away from Miranda Popescu, to other characters (notably Sasha Prochenko, Nicola Ceacescu the Baroness, and the Baroness's former friend and henchman, Luckacz. Nicola Ceacescu, in her web of plots, is as happy to use magic (simulacra, 'the old country magic of whores', and a degree of foreknowledge -- as displayed in her opera, The White Tyger -- that may be prescience or predetermination) as poison or politics. Sasha Prochenko, the bold lieutenant who we first encountered as a girl, and then as a dog) is now a tripartite creature, capable of being male or female or something quite inhuman: and the ways in which those layers manifest is fascinating.

There's also much more sense of the wider world in which Miranda -- transplanted from our own Massachussetts -- has found herself. In earlier volumes our own reality was written off as an elaborate deception to hide Miranda: now it's reinterpreted as a failed experiment. "Models for evolution, heliocentric ... fairy stories. A world where dreams mean nothing. Where the dead are dead. Where stars are only balls of flaming gas and planets are dead rocks, and we are only responsible to our own selves."

Roumania is the cultural, or magical, or actual centre of a world in which a god has been imprisoned in a tower for the last three centuries: where Cleopatra has taken her place amongst the deities on Olympos (and where it seems likely that this is not mere myth): where Shakespeare's known as 'that English refugee' and Newton -- who 'died of syphilis and mercury in Potsdam, a drunken broken man' -- is more famous for his alchemy (which is True and Accurate) than anything else.

But it's not entirely removed from our own reality. Several characters suffer radiation poisoning (though one is also bitten by an imp named Mintbean, one of Newton's demons). The myths that Nicola Ceacescu assumes and discards, in a quest for self-definition, are myths that are familiar to us. And Medea was a princess of Roumania ...

A great deal happens in this volume of the story, though it's inconclusive. There are reversals, mistakes, the gradual subversion and destruction of several well-laid and long-term plans. All it takes is a little greed, the wrong person in the right place, the hidden world trickling into the real.

The authorial voice seems to creep in a little more than before, as though the reader might need reassurance:
"Mademoiselle, we will meet again in happier times!"
Miranda didn't think so, though it turned out to be true.

I'm looking forward to the fourth and final book in the sequence. I want to see the gods.

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