A self-styled prince invites several immortals to a mysterious party in this fantasy debut.
Councilor Alex Dryden is an immortal witch who works at the School of Winchester. The academy specializes in teaching gifted children, and one day she stands before a class to demonstrate “magick.” But for Alex, magick is the manipulation of “tellur,” the invisible energy network that constitutes reality. When a dangerous fae specimen runs amok in a school lab, Alex helps subdue the creature. She’s then summoned to headmaster Tylanus Spencer’s office. He explains that she’s been invited to the palace of Arnaud Demeure in Paris. Demeure is famous for granting wishes, so Alex can’t refuse. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Hermann Walker, an immortal “Wurdulac” who’s in “communion with his inner wolf,” is likewise invited by Demeure to Paris. Eventually, eight fantastical individuals—Alex, Hermann, Daniel Cortese, Leto Sieberg, Aylin Van Vloed, Ioniţă “Ioan” Sturdza, Celeste Moreau, and a man named Roman—are teleported “away from the physical plane” to a kind of chapel between layers of reality. Outside the chapel is a freezing wasteland. Alex, being versed in physics and using her third eye, determines that they are in a Schwarzschild box, or “a singularity in the quintessential field.” When Demeure finally arrives, he reveals himself to be the philosopher Descartes. He brings the guests into his palace, which they may enjoy for “one or two nights” until his wedding. Yet the more Alex peers into Demeure’s elaborate illusions, the more she suspects the group is trapped and about to be sacrificed in a world-breaking ritual.Blackbird’s ambitious tale infuses elements of horror, traditional fantasy, and quantum physics into a challenging mélange. The novel’s structure may divide his audience into those who enjoy a fragmented narrative that builds its larger picture slowly and those who don’t. The opening scenes that introduce Alex, with flashbacks to immortal activity in prior centuries, speak to intellectually agile storytelling. But the entrance of other characters onto the stage is less sure-footed. Hermann, for example, listens to old tapes of his therapy sessions that add murkiness to events before readers know what’s happening. His therapist, Dr. R.J. Millard, says, “There is something in the way he sees things, and perceives the world around him, such a level of depth and speed that I can’t follow.” After the characters finally meet one another, the narrative streamlines with clear explanations. The Schwarzschild box, for example, can “tamper with reality, create rooms, even people, and push you deeper inside every time you try to escape.” The stakes rise when it’s discovered that Demeure’s ritual will pierce “the sky, quite literally making a hole in our world to let other worlds, the higher planes, leak into this one.” Horror fans will rejoice when action breaks out in the book’s final third and “new eyes, of a golden yellow, emerged from underneath Daniel’s usual gray ones. The skin on his face ripped and a thick black fur emerged from under the cuts.” But with strident explorations of science, religion, and philosophy, Blackbird’s story may leave casual fantasy fans begging for less.
A well-written, conceptually dense fantasy that’s demanding in its details.