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

Thursday, August 04, 2011

2011/35: Desdaemona -- Ben Macallan

This was the backlash of loneliness. The mortal version had at least a certain terminus: you could only be lonely for a lifetime. In an immortal body, it could last forever. A boy could be stranded like this, in the prow of something strong and unstoppable, eternally alone, eternally aware ...
He could be pathetic and self-pitying, and aware of that too, and equally unable to change it. (p. 266)
The first urban fantasy from 'Ben Macallan', possibly better-known as Chaz Brenchley. Jordan looks like a 17-year-old homeless boy, but he's been seventeen for a very long time. He treads a fine line between the supernatural heritage he's rejected, and the human world in which he's able to do some good: helping people who are lost, showing them their way home. He's acquired the reputation of being able to find anything. That's why Desi -- Desdaemona -- seeks him out: she wants him to find her sister Fay, who had an affair with an immortal and ended it very badly.

Jordan isn't entirely enthusiastic about working for Desi. For one thing, the line between 'boss' and 'girlfriend' is somewhat blurry. For another, Desi isn't exactly human any more, and she's attracted some enemies who have never been human. Fortunately, the two find an ally in Jordan's estranged brother Asher. Did I say 'fortunately'? No, wait ...

Desdaemona features some truly creative (and distractingly unpleasant) opponents, mostly drawn from English folklore -- the Green Man, a Henley undine, the nastiest Nine Men's Morris ever -- as well as a stunning drag-queen Sybil and the more mundane malevolence of vampires, werewolves et cetera. For a first-person narrative, it also manages to keep Jordan's secrets hidden away for a remarkably long time: we know something is strange about him, but we don't know what.

Macallan doesn't deal in black and white. (Jordan occasionally does, but it's clear when he's doing so). The major villains, the ones who aren't mere henchmen or ... morris-men, are faceted, interesting, likeable. Jordan is far from heroic: he's spent his teens (his very elastic teens) running away, and he's neither physically strong nor supernaturally powerful. His charm is in his vulnerability, his ability to mock himself, and his steadfastness of purpose.

Disclaimer: I am a friend of the author, and afraid of his cats. Nevertheless, I shall whine about the ending. (It is not weak or bad: it is merely incredibly frustrating.) Thankfully, a sequel is in the works.

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