Eurydice’s Lament by Brian Stableford
Published by Hollywood Comics 2015
Review by Sally Startup
On the fictional island of Mnemosyne lives Axel Rathenius, a spectacularly creative portrait painter. Some people even suspect him of being a sorcerer, although he maintains he is really a skeptic. Axel has been commissioned to paint a triptych illustrating the career of the mythical Orpheus, but is finding it difficult to complete. Gradually, events begin to draw Axel further and further into a mystery. Being an artist of considerable experience, however, he knows when to allow such a work of art to unfold of its own accord, without imposing his own will too forcefully.
This sequel to The Wayward Muse begins with the arrival of some newcomers to the island, where they will meet characters from those earlier stories. Hecate Rain, Vashti Savage, Myrica Mavor and Nicodemus Rham are involved, as is the Mother Superior of the druidic convent of the Sisters of Shalimar. The Duc de Dellacrusca embraces the role of evil mastermind. Axel is an even more compassionate and understanding narrator than before, in spite of claiming to value art above all else.
The setting is a fictional world in which Rome has never fallen to the Barbarians. This allows for such delightful touches as a trade agreement between the Empire and the Iroquois Federation; and the likelihood that any number of wars have been prevented by the Empire’s policy of religious tolerance. Nevertheless, there are many points of contact with our own world. Mnemosyne is caught up in a feud between two long-standing ‘secret’ organisations, the Orpheans and the Dionysians. Their enmity has led to the misinterpretation of history by both sides. Resolution may depend on hearing the voices that were excluded, even if such voices can only use the language of sighs.
Axel Rathenius willingly accepts the role of art-mystery sleuth, once again. Through his narration, the novel’s plots and themes become interwoven as he comes to understand what may be happening. He provides enlightening and thought-provoking commentary. Axel’s explorations of the effects of other characters’ beliefs and superstitions are utterly fascinating. He also makes some astute and important judgements about the psychological nature of villainy. His observations of Hecate, Myrica and Vashti, and of the newcomers (the artist Charles Parenot and his unconventional family), provide wonderfully vivid verbal portraits of his subjects’ behaviour and their possible motivation. As he structures and narrates the tale, he is aware that his artistic decisions have important implications, although he does not always consciously direct them.
This novel is not particularly long, but it is densely filled with meaning. A many-layered tale of hope, it deserves reading and re-reading. Set in an imagined world somewhere parallel to our own nineteenth-century, it speaks about future possiblities that could affect anyone.