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Review: Mother Aegypt

I've always had a soft spot for a certain strain of genteel fantasy, usually the kind that crosses vile darkness with good manners. Think Jack Vance meets Ellen Kushner, or maybe A. Merritt meets Susanna Clarke.

It's really a matter of tone. Fritz Leiber could do it at will. Steven Brust pulled it off a couple times, with the Phoenix Guards. Kim Newman with Anno Dracula. Elizabeth Willey came close with A Sorcerer and A Gentleman, Brian Aldiss did manage it once with Malacia Tapestry. I can't think of many others. Kage Baker's recent short story collection, Mother Aegypt, takes that style of floating, pure enchantment and does wonderful things with it. The stories range from pulpy to modern to almost SFnal, but in almost every case, the tone is dead on.

Especially delightful with Baker's stories is the way she slowly reveals more and more of the surroundings or the true genre of the tale; you may think you are reading an urban fantasy when you discover that it's really a faerie kidnapping. A childish fantasy can turn into a revenge tale, and a dissipated youthful gentleman may turn out to have a rather unexpected family.

While Kage always writes with a sly wink, she also provides warmth and flawed characters who are completely lovable, such as the greedy, lustful hero of the title story, a man who falls in love with what he thinks is a gypsy fortune teller, but is (obviously to everyone else) something perhaps best left alone. A very, very fine collection for anyone who loves smart fantasy.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Comments

( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )
mckitterick
Nov. 21st, 2004 09:48 pm (UTC)
Good to hear - she won the Sturgeon this year for "The Empress of Mars." Cool!

Chris
the_monkey_king
Nov. 21st, 2004 10:17 pm (UTC)
Based on her shorts, I'll be looking around for her future work. I think she's my favorite new writer of 2004.
godeater_sw
Nov. 21st, 2004 10:24 pm (UTC)
If you say she mirror's Brust's achievement in the Khaavren romances (The Phoenix Guards being first and best of that series of books), I'm going to read her work with a lot of anticipation.
the_monkey_king
Nov. 21st, 2004 10:28 pm (UTC)
Well, these are short stories we're talking about, not 600-page novels. So moderate your expectations.

But she does have a sly wit that is a match for Brust's.
godeater_sw
Nov. 21st, 2004 11:07 pm (UTC)
That's what I was getting at. I appreciate the difference between a novel and a short story, thanks. -)
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( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )

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