The Poison Master [NOOK Book]

Overview

Enslaved on an isolated planet, an alchemist fights to free her sister—and mankind
Latent Emanation is a cruel world where ordinary people do everything they can to stay out of the way of their vicious masters, the mysterious Night Lords. Apprentice alchemist Alivet Dee is more cautious than most, having devoted her life to making enough money to buy back her imprisoned sister from the Night Lords—but trouble is about to find her. When a client dies during a routine alchemical ...
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The Poison Master

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Overview

Enslaved on an isolated planet, an alchemist fights to free her sister—and mankind
Latent Emanation is a cruel world where ordinary people do everything they can to stay out of the way of their vicious masters, the mysterious Night Lords. Apprentice alchemist Alivet Dee is more cautious than most, having devoted her life to making enough money to buy back her imprisoned sister from the Night Lords—but trouble is about to find her. When a client dies during a routine alchemical session, Alivet flees—pursued by the Night Lords, their minions, and a dark force that haunts her dreams.
She is rescued by Ghairen, a Poison Master from another world who offers her a chance to save her sister—and humanity, as well. He is charming and handsome, with ruby-red eyes that glow in the night—but how can she trust a professional assassin? As she proceeds warily alongside the Poison Master, Alivet finds a chance not just to save mankind, but to unlock the mysteries of humanity’s very existence.  
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gutsy Alivet Dee sets out to save her sister from alien slavery but ends up rescuing much more in this fantastic, whirlwind tale. A descendent of 16th-century mathematician and alchemist John Dee, Alivet resides on a planet known as Latent Emanation, a foggy fen where humans live under the rule of the cruel Lords of Night. When the Lords select Alivet's twin, Inki, to serve as their slave, Alivet, a budding apothecary and alchemist who longs to discover the origin of her people, vows to pay Inki's "unbonding" fee. Before she can save enough money, a bizarre accident puts her life in jeopardy and leads her to form a tenuous alliance with the Poison Master, a secretive man possessing red eyes, an intimate knowledge of deadly toxins and a desire to find the substance that will annihilate the Lords. During her quest, Alivet visits two richly imagined planets: Hathes, a bitterly cold place where assassination is commonplace; and Nethes, a hot planet where Alivet first learns of Earth. The book's various cultures and characters are fascinating, but what makes this story unusual is its historical breadth and its consideration of the spiritual and supernatural. Part alien adventure and part existential exploration, this top-notch tale establishes Williams (Empire of Bones) as an author to watch. (Jan. 7) Forecast: Glowing reviews, pre-pub promotion at SF conventions and advertising in Locus and Science Fiction Chronicle should set the stage for healthy sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
When the ruling aliens known as the Lords of Night take Alivet Dee's twin sister into their service, the young alchemist accepts the task of accumulating enough money to buy her sister's freedom. Accused of murdering a client, Alivet accepts a proposition from a mysterious stranger whose promise to help her may also result in her death. The latest sf gothic from the author of The Ghost Sister and Empire of Bones combines an episode from the life of 16th-century alchemist John Dee with a tale of poison, dreams, and interstellar travel in a sensual and evocative story that belongs in most libraries' sf or fantasy collections. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Part alien adventure and part existential exploration, this top-notch tale establishes Williams as an author to watch.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The alchemical and kabbalistic underpinnings of Williams’ fantasy world give it an edge.” —Booklist

“Part alien adventure and part existential exploration, this top-notch tale establishes Williams as an author to watch.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The alchemical and kabbalistic underpinnings of Williams’ fantasy world give it an edge.” —Booklist 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480426740
  • Publisher: Open Road Media
  • Publication date: 9/17/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 426
  • Sales rank: 330,180
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Liz Williams is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Glastonbury, England, where she is codirector of a witchcraft supply business. The author of seventeen novels and over one hundred short stories, she has been published by Bantam Spectra and Night Shade Books in the US, and by Tor Macmillan in the UK. She was a frequent contributor to Realms of Fantasy, and her writing appears regularly in Asimov’s and other magazines. She is the secretary of the Milford SF Writers’ Workshop and teaches creative writing and history of science fiction. 
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

Trinity College, Cambridge - 1547

Are you certain this unnatural device will not fail us?" Sir John Cheke's face was a study in apprehension. Beyond the windows of the college hall, the May twilight grew blue and dim. Cheke reached for a candle and lit it.

"Of course I am certain," Dee replied, swallowing his impatience. "I should not have proposed such a matter to you if I had not been entirely sure of my theorems." He pointed to a complex arrangement of levers, mirrors, and pulleys, concealed behind the pale stone arches.

"Nevertheless, if the theatrical player is actually intended to ride upon this contraption—" Cheke hesitated. "And though I believe you to be a prodigy in mathematics, you are youthful, sir, and prone to eagerness. Will the actor be safe?"

"He will be as safe as if he sat bestride an aged mule upon the Ely road." John Dee took care to maintain a tranquil countenance above his frayed ruff, belying a degree of inner doubt. It had taken several sleepless nights to work out the practical consequences of his plan and Dee was by no means sure that it would prove a success. But how else to test the theory? The expression that Cheke wore now was a familiar one. It had often been seen to steal across his old tutor's features, like cat-ice upon the millponds of the Cam, when Dee had come up with some new notion, but he was also confident that Cheke could be persuaded to support the current proposal. After all, it was well known that Cheke would not set foot out of his house before examining the configuration of the stars, and frequently consulted Dee as to the more pressing astrological portents. Moreover, Cheke and his colleagues had already proved instrumental in encouraging Erasmus' new learning at the University. Arabic arithmetic, which Dee was currently engaged in teaching to a new generation of undergraduates, was now all the rage. So was Greek philosophy and that meant that Greek plays might also be popular, such as Aristophanes' Peace, which Dee was now currently attempting to stage.

Cheke prodded the thing that sat before him with a wary foot.

"But a mechanical beetle? I do wonder, John, at the chambers that your imagination must contain. Even at nineteen you manage to surpass the notions held by men twice your age!"

The beetle, some four feet in length and constructed of wood and metal at a local forge, rocked gently at the touch of Cheke's shoe.

"Take care! And I venture to remark that it is not my imagination," Dee hastened to say, "but that of Aristophanes himself, who was the first to conceive of such a scheme."

"One might suggest that the playwright's interest was allegorical rather than mechanical." Cheke gestured disapprovingly toward the copy of Peace that lay upon a nearby table. "That the hero of this play succeeds in reaching Olympus and the gods on the back of a giant dung beetle, rather than the winged steed of legend, gives Aristophanes license for a number of broad jests and references."

"Broad jests aside, it is the principle that counts."

"Indeed. Explain to me once more how you intend to persuade this monster to part company from the ground?"

"I am beginning work upon an 'art mathematical,' which I term 'thaumaturgy,' " Dee explained. He took a deep breath, willing himself not to launch into an explanation that would cause a glaze to appear across Cheke's eyes. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that other people did not seem to enjoy the same ease with mathematics as Dee himself. Sorting through the muddled pile of notes, he took up a scrap of parchment and began to read. " 'It giveth certain order to make strange works, of the sense to be perceived and of men greatly to be wondered at.' "

"Men will indeed greatly wonder," Cheke remarked acidly, "if a gigantic flying dung beetle should hurtle across the college dining room and flatten the unhappy audience. I want details, sir, not idle speculation such as one may hear in any tavern in the town. How is it going to fly?"

"It is based on the principles explored by the Greek mathematician Archytas. He demonstrated it by means of a wooden dove, which was able to fly unaided," Dee explained. "In Nuremberg, too, an artificer succeeded in constructing an iron fly that soared about the room and returned safely to his hand. And an artificial eagle was also produced, with similar results. I myself have conducted experiments with a metal insect of my own, this time fashioned of bronze, and have achieved a measure of success. However, I am reluctant to do the same with an object of these proportions"—Dee nudged the beetle—"and hence I have arranged this purely mechanical sequence of pulleys, operated by the elements of air and water, which are intended to move the device between the rafters. Both methods involve the application of mathematics and if we are successful in this more material exercise, I will attempt to produce true unaided flight in the beetle itself. Imagine," he went on, "if we could devise a flying machine that could transport a man clear across the country. With the present condition of our English roads, a man could make a fortune with such an engine."

Cheke's round face embodied skepticism. "First things first, John. Let's get the beetle to the lofty peak of the Trinity ceiling before we start to muse about crossing the country."

"A wise plan," Dee agreed. Cheke was the Chancellor, when everything was said and done, and it would not do to be too insistent. He was fortunate that Cheke was allowing him to stage the play at all.

To the detriment of his students, Dee spent the next few days in a haze of mathematical speculation, distracted only by the imploring questions of the leading theatrical player.

"What if I fall off the device?" Will Grey pleaded, kneading his cap between his hands. "Are you certain that this is safe?"

With an inward sigh, Dee gave the same reassurances to Grey that he had previously made to Sir John Cheke.

"All you have to do is to maintain a steady hold upon the scarab's shell. The ropes and pulleys will do the rest of the work. Now, my Trygaeus, be brave, as befits a true hero approaching the Olympian heights!"

"All very well for you to say," Grey muttered. "Since your part is merely to skulk in the wings like a curber's warp."

"Exactly." Dee clapped Grey on the shoulder. "Where I shall be taking good care that everything goes according to plan."

Once the disconsolate actor had gone, Dee went back into his rooms and sat down at the desk. Spring rain streaked the leaded windows, turning the bleached stones of Trinity as gray as bone. An east wind, cold as the forests of Muscovy from which it had come, roared across the fens and rattled the doors. Somewhere in the building Dee could hear the drift of a lute. Footsteps clattered on the wooden staircase, accompanied by a sudden babble of voices. Ignoring these distractions, Dee riffled the parchments that covered the desk until he located the letter that had arrived that morning from Roger Ascham at Louvain. Reading the letter once more, Dee marveled at the prospect of living in such an age as this, when a new discovery seemed to spring forth every day like wisdom from the head of Jupiter . . .

He wondered whether there was any truth in this latest theory. He had come across it before in an account of Rheticius', but now it seemed that someone had published it in a book. It would be worth his while to hunt down a copy of this De Revolutionibus, Dee thought. An intriguing notion: that the Earth journeyed about the sun rather than the other way about, a return to most ancient principles.

Idly, Dee began to speculate and soon became engrossed in the half-visionary, half-mathematical dreaming that had proved the hallmark of his success to date. Despite Cheke's skepticism, he felt sure the principles that had led to the flight of the little bronze bee could be harnessed to lift a much larger object, and he pictured himself soaring above the woods and patchwork fields of England.

In his mind's eye, the Thames lay below, a silver thread snaking toward a glistening sea, and all the roofs and gables of London spread out beneath him like children's toys. It would be akin to the view from the spire of St. Mary's in Cambridge, the highest that Dee had ever stood above a town, yet surely from a greater height everything would look even more remote. Imagination took Dee sailing across London, over the black-and-white whimsy of Nonsuch Palace, over the turrets of Oxford and the green hills of Gloucestershire, as far as the borders of Wales and then up through the rainy skies into the heavens until he could see the Earth itself, hanging like an orb against a field of stars and suns.

It was the very image of an astrolabe: he could almost see the roads traveled by each and every world around the sun. And Dee thought: If only my device could reach the realms of the sublunary spheres. Then I could see for myself the truth of the matter, whether the world travels around the sun, or vice versa . . .

Someone knocked sharply on the door, returning Dee to Earth. It proved to be Cheke, with yet another worry, leaving Dee no more time for interplanetary speculation.

Much to Cheke's surprise, and Dee's secret relief, the rehearsals for the performance of Peace passed with only a few hitches.

"It will all go ill on the night," Cheke said gloomily, when Dee pointed out that this proved the soundness of his calculations. From the wings, Will Grey could be heard vomiting into a bucket, whether with the sensation of the flight itself or relief at having survived it, Dee did not know.

"Nonsense," said Dee. "You must have more faith in mathematics."

"I can see why some folk call it no better than conjuring," Cheke muttered.

Dee winced. The accusation was a familiar one. "Calculation" still meant "conjuring" to more than a few folk, and Pythagoras himself was commonly supposed to have been a magus. As long as they kept to burning books and not people, Dee thought, he should be safe enough. Though if the political situation changed, it might be a different story. He remembered the troubles earlier in the year: the sudden Protestant upheaval at the succession of the young King Edward that had seen statues destroyed in St. Paul's and other churches. Still, if Plato and Aristotle had managed to live through the dark days of political unrest, Dee would endeavor to prove worthy of them. The main matter was knowledge.

"Do not be anxious," he instructed Cheke. "You will see when the performance is over what a great wonder it has been, and what fame the college will glean as a result. I have heard that people are even traveling from the court."

At this a glitter of calculation began to light Cheke's eye, and Dee knew that there would be no more carping about money or the furnishings.

"Alas! How frightened I am—I have no heart for jests," Will Grey cried, as the beetle hurtled from one side of Trinity Hall to the other above a gaping crowd. A greasy smoke billowed up from the pitch torches surrounding the stage as the beetle sailed past. "Ah, machinist, take great care of me!"

"I do not recollect those last words in the script," Cheke murmured; he had joined Dee for a moment in the wings.

"He meant it, though." It was a great shame that he could only snatch glimpses of the beetle's wonderful flight, Dee thought. The rest of his attention was riveted on the men working the system of ropes and pulleys that powered the device, and in angling the mirror above the stage that gave the illusion of depth. But he could hear the astonished murmurs of the audience and that was almost as good. The hall was packed; not only with students and tutors, but also with courtiers, who for all their city sophistication were just as slack-mouthed as the merest youth.

"It is a triumph," Cheke whispered. "I have been listening. They really have no notion how it was done." He bestowed a nervous glance upon his colleague. "They are already talking about sorcery, you know. We shall have to be careful."

Absently, Dee nodded. Ropes and trickery were all very well, but the experiment had served to convince him of one thing. He now knew that the real work lay in the future: in making that visionary flying machine, in traveling to the Earth's limits, and beyond.

Chapter II

City of Levanah, Month of Dragonflies

The meeting that night was held at a stilt-farm near the village of Edgewhere, in the middle of Deadwife Marsh. The causeway was unlit, but marsh fire flickered beneath its rickety poles and insects traced a pale light across the path of Alivet Dee. It was late in the Month of Dragonflies; the iridescent swarms had already lifted from the waters of the marsh and sailed up into the skies, hanging on the rising winds. Alivet pulled her greatcoat closer to guard against the dampness and the chill. The hem of her long skirt was already soaked. She could smell moss, growing somewhere in the brackish waters below, combining with the odor of mud and marsh weed. You could make something of that, Alivet thought: mingled with velivey and myrrh, it would make an interesting musk, and quite possibly a narcotic one, too. But she had other things to think about besides perfume and alchemicals.

As she neared the end of the causeway, Alivet glanced uneasily over her shoulder. The city of Levanah rose above the fens, a crust of dark buildings starred with lamps. A scarab flier hissed low over the horizon, carrying Unpriests to some unknown assignation, and Alivet shivered. Far to the left, she could see the silhouetted shapes of the Towers of Contemplation, phosphorus gleaming along their pylons. Up there, the anube mendicants sat, locked in prayer for the soul of the city. There were never more than three or four; the Unpriests would come sooner or later, and toss them down into the marsh. Alivet had seen such a thing once before: a twisting jackal-headed body, plummeting silently into the waters from the rickety heights of the tower. More would always come to take their place, as the Unpriests clearly knew. Alivet wondered why they did not simply have the towers removed, but perhaps it amused the Unpriests to have such a stationary target, or perhaps it was symbolic of the uneasy relationship that existed between anube and human.

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First Chapter

Chapter I

Trinity College, Cambridge - 1547

Are you certain this unnatural device will not fail us?" Sir John Cheke's face was a study in apprehension. Beyond the windows of the college hall, the May twilight grew blue and dim. Cheke reached for a candle and lit it.

"Of course I am certain," Dee replied, swallowing his impatience. "I should not have proposed such a matter to you if I had not been entirely sure of my theorems." He pointed to a complex arrangement of levers, mirrors, and pulleys, concealed behind the pale stone arches.

"Nevertheless, if the theatrical player is actually intended to ride upon this contraption--" Cheke hesitated. "And though I believe you to be a prodigy in mathematics, you are youthful, sir, and prone to eagerness. Will the actor be safe?"

"He will be as safe as if he sat bestride an aged mule upon the Ely road." John Dee took care to maintain a tranquil countenance above his frayed ruff, belying a degree of inner doubt. It had taken several sleepless nights to work out the practical consequences of his plan and Dee was by no means sure that it would prove a success. But how else to test the theory? The expression that Cheke wore now was a familiar one. It had often been seen to steal across his old tutor's features, like cat-ice upon the millponds of the Cam, when Dee had come up with some new notion, but he was also confident that Cheke could be persuaded to support the current proposal. After all, it was well known that Cheke would not set foot out of his house before examining the configuration of the stars, and frequently consulted Dee as to themore pressing astrological portents. Moreover, Cheke and his colleagues had already proved instrumental in encouraging Erasmus' new learning at the University. Arabic arithmetic, which Dee was currently engaged in teaching to a new generation of undergraduates, was now all the rage. So was Greek philosophy and that meant that Greek plays might also be popular, such as Aristophanes' Peace, which Dee was now currently attempting to stage.

Cheke prodded the thing that sat before him with a wary foot.

"But a mechanical beetle? I do wonder, John, at the chambers that your imagination must contain. Even at nineteen you manage to surpass the notions held by men twice your age!"

The beetle, some four feet in length and constructed of wood and metal at a local forge, rocked gently at the touch of Cheke's shoe.

"Take care! And I venture to remark that it is not my imagination," Dee hastened to say, "but that of Aristophanes himself, who was the first to conceive of such a scheme."

"One might suggest that the playwright's interest was allegorical rather than mechanical." Cheke gestured disapprovingly toward the copy of Peace that lay upon a nearby table. "That the hero of this play succeeds in reaching Olympus and the gods on the back of a giant dung beetle, rather than the winged steed of legend, gives Aristophanes license for a number of broad jests and references."

"Broad jests aside, it is the principle that counts."

"Indeed. Explain to me once more how you intend to persuade this monster to part company from the ground?"

"I am beginning work upon an 'art mathematical,' which I term 'thaumaturgy,' " Dee explained. He took a deep breath, willing himself not to launch into an explanation that would cause a glaze to appear across Cheke's eyes. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that other people did not seem to enjoy the same ease with mathematics as Dee himself. Sorting through the muddled pile of notes, he took up a scrap of parchment and began to read. " 'It giveth certain order to make strange works, of the sense to be perceived and of men greatly to be wondered at.' "

"Men will indeed greatly wonder," Cheke remarked acidly, "if a gigantic flying dung beetle should hurtle across the college dining room and flatten the unhappy audience. I want details, sir, not idle speculation such as one may hear in any tavern in the town. How is it going to fly?"

"It is based on the principles explored by the Greek mathematician Archytas. He demonstrated it by means of a wooden dove, which was able to fly unaided," Dee explained. "In Nuremberg, too, an artificer succeeded in constructing an iron fly that soared about the room and returned safely to his hand. And an artificial eagle was also produced, with similar results. I myself have conducted experiments with a metal insect of my own, this time fashioned of bronze, and have achieved a measure of success. However, I am reluctant to do the same with an object of these proportions"--Dee nudged the beetle--"and hence I have arranged this purely mechanical sequence of pulleys, operated by the elements of air and water, which are intended to move the device between the rafters. Both methods involve the application of mathematics and if we are successful in this more material exercise, I will attempt to produce true unaided flight in the beetle itself. Imagine," he went on, "if we could devise a flying machine that could transport a man clear across the country. With the present condition of our English roads, a man could make a fortune with such an engine."

Cheke's round face embodied skepticism. "First things first, John. Let's get the beetle to the lofty peak of the Trinity ceiling before we start to muse about crossing the country."

"A wise plan," Dee agreed. Cheke was the Chancellor, when everything was said and done, and it would not do to be too insistent. He was fortunate that Cheke was allowing him to stage the play at all.

To the detriment of his students, Dee spent the next few days in a haze of mathematical speculation, distracted only by the imploring questions of the leading theatrical player.

"What if I fall off the device?" Will Grey pleaded, kneading his cap between his hands. "Are you certain that this is safe?"

With an inward sigh, Dee gave the same reassurances to Grey that he had previously made to Sir John Cheke.

"All you have to do is to maintain a steady hold upon the scarab's shell. The ropes and pulleys will do the rest of the work. Now, my Trygaeus, be brave, as befits a true hero approaching the Olympian heights!"

"All very well for you to say," Grey muttered. "Since your part is merely to skulk in the wings like a curber's warp."

"Exactly." Dee clapped Grey on the shoulder. "Where I shall be taking good care that everything goes according to plan."

Once the disconsolate actor had gone, Dee went back into his rooms and sat down at the desk. Spring rain streaked the leaded windows, turning the bleached stones of Trinity as gray as bone. An east wind, cold as the forests of Muscovy from which it had come, roared across the fens and rattled the doors. Somewhere in the building Dee could hear the drift of a lute. Footsteps clattered on the wooden staircase, accompanied by a sudden babble of voices. Ignoring these distractions, Dee riffled the parchments that covered the desk until he located the letter that had arrived that morning from Roger Ascham at Louvain. Reading the letter once more, Dee marveled at the prospect of living in such an age as this, when a new discovery seemed to spring forth every day like wisdom from the head of Jupiter . . .

He wondered whether there was any truth in this latest theory. He had come across it before in an account of Rheticius', but now it seemed that someone had published it in a book. It would be worth his while to hunt down a copy of this De Revolutionibus, Dee thought. An intriguing notion: that the Earth journeyed about the sun rather than the other way about, a return to most ancient principles.

Idly, Dee began to speculate and soon became engrossed in the half-visionary, half-mathematical dreaming that had proved the hallmark of his success to date. Despite Cheke's skepticism, he felt sure the principles that had led to the flight of the little bronze bee could be harnessed to lift a much larger object, and he pictured himself soaring above the woods and patchwork fields of England.

In his mind's eye, the Thames lay below, a silver thread snaking toward a glistening sea, and all the roofs and gables of London spread out beneath him like children's toys. It would be akin to the view from the spire of St. Mary's in Cambridge, the highest that Dee had ever stood above a town, yet surely from a greater height everything would look even more remote. Imagination took Dee sailing across London, over the black-and-white whimsy of Nonsuch Palace, over the turrets of Oxford and the green hills of Gloucestershire, as far as the borders of Wales and then up through the rainy skies into the heavens until he could see the Earth itself, hanging like an orb against a field of stars and suns.

It was the very image of an astrolabe: he could almost see the roads traveled by each and every world around the sun. And Dee thought: If only my device could reach the realms of the sublunary spheres. Then I could see for myself the truth of the matter, whether the world travels around the sun, or vice versa . . .

Someone knocked sharply on the door, returning Dee to Earth. It proved to be Cheke, with yet another worry, leaving Dee no more time for interplanetary speculation.

Much to Cheke's surprise, and Dee's secret relief, the rehearsals for the performance of Peace passed with only a few hitches.

"It will all go ill on the night," Cheke said gloomily, when Dee pointed out that this proved the soundness of his calculations. From the wings, Will Grey could be heard vomiting into a bucket, whether with the sensation of the flight itself or relief at having survived it, Dee did not know.

"Nonsense," said Dee. "You must have more faith in mathematics."

"I can see why some folk call it no better than conjuring," Cheke muttered.

Dee winced. The accusation was a familiar one. "Calculation" still meant "conjuring" to more than a few folk, and Pythagoras himself was commonly supposed to have been a magus. As long as they kept to burning books and not people, Dee thought, he should be safe enough. Though if the political situation changed, it might be a different story. He remembered the troubles earlier in the year: the sudden Protestant upheaval at the succession of the young King Edward that had seen statues destroyed in St. Paul's and other churches. Still, if Plato and Aristotle had managed to live through the dark days of political unrest, Dee would endeavor to prove worthy of them. The main matter was knowledge.

"Do not be anxious," he instructed Cheke. "You will see when the performance is over what a great wonder it has been, and what fame the college will glean as a result. I have heard that people are even traveling from the court."

At this a glitter of calculation began to light Cheke's eye, and Dee knew that there would be no more carping about money or the furnishings.

"Alas! How frightened I am--I have no heart for jests," Will Grey cried, as the beetle hurtled from one side of Trinity Hall to the other above a gaping crowd. A greasy smoke billowed up from the pitch torches surrounding the stage as the beetle sailed past. "Ah, machinist, take great care of me!"

"I do not recollect those last words in the script," Cheke murmured; he had joined Dee for a moment in the wings.

"He meant it, though." It was a great shame that he could only snatch glimpses of the beetle's wonderful flight, Dee thought. The rest of his attention was riveted on the men working the system of ropes and pulleys that powered the device, and in angling the mirror above the stage that gave the illusion of depth. But he could hear the astonished murmurs of the audience and that was almost as good. The hall was packed; not only with students and tutors, but also with courtiers, who for all their city sophistication were just as slack-mouthed as the merest youth.

"It is a triumph," Cheke whispered. "I have been listening. They really have no notion how it was done." He bestowed a nervous glance upon his colleague. "They are already talking about sorcery, you know. We shall have to be careful."

Absently, Dee nodded. Ropes and trickery were all very well, but the experiment had served to convince him of one thing. He now knew that the real work lay in the future: in making that visionary flying machine, in traveling to the Earth's limits, and beyond.

Chapter II

City of Levanah, Month of Dragonflies

The meeting that night was held at a stilt-farm near the village of Edgewhere, in the middle of Deadwife Marsh. The causeway was unlit, but marsh fire flickered beneath its rickety poles and insects traced a pale light across the path of Alivet Dee. It was late in the Month of Dragonflies; the iridescent swarms had already lifted from the waters of the marsh and sailed up into the skies, hanging on the rising winds. Alivet pulled her greatcoat closer to guard against the dampness and the chill. The hem of her long skirt was already soaked. She could smell moss, growing somewhere in the brackish waters below, combining with the odor of mud and marsh weed. You could make something of that, Alivet thought: mingled with velivey and myrrh, it would make an interesting musk, and quite possibly a narcotic one, too. But she had other things to think about besides perfume and alchemicals.

As she neared the end of the causeway, Alivet glanced uneasily over her shoulder. The city of Levanah rose above the fens, a crust of dark buildings starred with lamps. A scarab flier hissed low over the horizon, carrying Unpriests to some unknown assignation, and Alivet shivered. Far to the left, she could see the silhouetted shapes of the Towers of Contemplation, phosphorus gleaming along their pylons. Up there, the anube mendicants sat, locked in prayer for the soul of the city. There were never more than three or four; the Unpriests would come sooner or later, and toss them down into the marsh. Alivet had seen such a thing once before: a twisting jackal-headed body, plummeting silently into the waters from the rickety heights of the tower. More would always come to take their place, as the Unpriests clearly knew. Alivet wondered why they did not simply have the towers removed, but perhaps it amused the Unpriests to have such a stationary target, or perhaps it was symbolic of the uneasy relationship that existed between anube and human.

Copyright 2003 by Liz Williams
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    science fiction at its thought provoking very best

    Centuries ago on the orb Latent Emanation, the alien Lords of the Night made the planet their own with 1,000 humans as their servant slaves. In the present, the Lords rule with an iron grip abetted by the human Unpriests who willingly serve their masters while the rest of humanity swells as second class citizens, knowing that anytime they can be enbonded, forced to directly serve their masters. Alchemist and apothecary Alivet Dee is saving her money to get her sister Inki unbonded but her goal seems futile when one of her clients dies and she is wanted for murder. On the run she meets Fifth Grade poisoner Ari Mahedi Ghairen of the planet Hathes who needs her help in destroying the Lords of the Night. She travels with him to his own world where they devise a poison that might free her world of her enemies. However, first she must discover if Ari is the friend he appears or the enemy that will kill her as predicted to her by one whom knows him very well. Liz Williams has created a very innovating, cutting edge science fiction thriller that starts off at supersonic speed and turns into faster than light until the plot attains a satisfying if startling climax. The hero is an enigma who readers never really get to understand but the heroine endears herself to the audience from the start with her plans to reclaim her sister from indentured servitude. THE POISON MASTER is science fiction at its thought provoking very best. Harriet Klausner

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    Posted July 21, 2011

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    Posted January 16, 2014

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    Posted January 23, 2010

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