Friday, December 8, 2017

Alchemists and Rebels and Bees, Oh-My! Cynthea Masson's The Flaw in the Stone

I'm running behind, obviously, on posting about books read this year, and now I'm running for the airport. But I have been so fortunate in reading books written by friends lately (read this post to see another example) -- and even more fortunate in once again getting a peek at a book via an Advance Reading Copy. As my little friend, above, appreciates, I've had a sneak preview of the second book in my friend and former colleague Cynthea Masson's fantasy trilogy. . . . and I'd like to repay the favour by letting you to know to watch for this one to hit the bookstore shelves.

I reviewed an Advance Reading Copy of the first book in Cynthea's trilogy, The Alchemists' Council,  last year, thought of the novel again a few months ago, standing in front of a window in Paris, a window featuring bees and their hives. Bees are a central element in The Alchemists' Council, and now I know that they feature significantly again as an important indicator of the links between "our world" and the parallel worlds -- dimensions -- of this fantasy trilogy. This second volume continues to make arguments about the environment, about the linkages between phenomena, about the consequences of human actions on "nature," and, especially, to explore the importance (and even the possibility) of free will. Above all, this novel considers the value of what is considered Flaw.

But not pedantically, lest I've given the mistaken impression the novels constitute merely a philosophical exploration. No, there are characters and settings to hold your attention, although you'll enjoy this book most if you begin with The Alchemists' Council.  Much of The Flaw in the Stone is concerned with the backstory to the first novel, unspooling the reel backwards through Council Dimension and Rebel Dimension histories to show us how characters and their relationships developed. At the same time, the politics of the opposing dimensions become clearer to us and we have some intriguing glimpses into the alchemical foundations -- rituals, materials, governing hierarchies -- of this parallel world (And it's worth keeping in mind that these alchemical foundations, while part of a fantasy novel, have at base writer Masson's scholarship in medieval literature).

Particularly interesting is the link made with "real-world" events, such that efforts to contend with The Stone's flaw have drastic repercussions such as, for example, World Wars. . .

Were I not having to leave for the airport in an hour, I'd tell you more about the novel: the lovely passages exploring challenges to gender binaries, to the way that minds sit in bodies and move (in) them, the way love and sexuality and gender can mix it up. I know, when I say "exploring challenges to gender binaries," I sound as if I'm reading from the preface to a critical theory text, which is not at all fair to Cynthea's writing. It's a playful, lyrical exploration, often sensuous.

But it's true that the novel, as its predecessor, demands. It rewards, yes, but it requires a patient and committed reader, willing to keep track of events, to understand the dates rolling forward with each chapter, their relationship with other dates. A reader who enjoys puzzling possibilities of time and place and ideas.  That reader might just be you, particularly if you enjoy the Fantasy genre (not my normal fare, to be honest), but you'll have to wait just a bit.  The publisher, ECW Press, is accepting pre-orders now, but the book is scheduled for a March release. (and to be very clear,  no remuneration was received for this post, neither from my friend Cynthea, nor from ECW Press -- oh, that such writing and publishing were lucrative enough for such possibilities! ;-)

Meanwhile, you might check out Volume One, The Alchemists' Council. As for me, I'll be on a plane very soon. Ta-ta. . . .

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