The Quintessence of August: A Romance of Possession, by Brian Stableford
published by Wildside Press, 2011.
This is the fourth in the series of novellas that begins with The Legacy of Erich Zann. A continuation of an overarching narrative for those who have read the previous books, but also a complete story in itself for those who haven’t.
The narrator is the American friend of Edgar Allan Poe. His name is not revealed to the reader. In 1846, he endures the unpleasantness of Paris in August, in order to keep another friend company. This Parisian friend is Auguste Dupin, the rationalist. Dupin seems immune to the heat-induced strain suffered by city-dwellers in August, but the narrator is not so robust. He is vulnerable to the effects of the heat and the threat of possession, but he and Dupin are called upon to solve a mystery. The Comte de Saint-Germain’s life has been threatened, seemingly in connection with a strange sealed box and a cello, left as a legacy to the Harmonic Philosophical Society of Paris.
As they investigate, the characters are drawn deeper and deeper into a history of darkness, fear and unhappiness. They become involved with an egregore, an entity even older than The Creeping Terror. In trying to understand what is happening, they explore, and sometimes exemplify, some deep areas of human psychology. As in the previous four stories in this series, one of the mysteries involved is that of magic, and how it works. This time, the magic involves music and possession.
The oppressive, all-pervading heat of Paris in August is woven through this story, making it easy to believe you are actually there with the characters. Even though the story is a journey through some dark regions of the human mind, the effects of the setting on the characters’ physical bodies is always present, always described.
A soirée is planned at the home of the Baron Du Potet, with music performed by Frédéric Chopin, Félix Battanchon and Cornélie Falcon, attended by a host of famous guests. A new composition is to be played, but who actually composed it, and to what purpose? An interesting effect of possession is that it provides an unusual way of seeing the same situation from different points of view. This is a story to consider from a number of different angles, and I found myself continuing to do so long after I had finished reading.