Immortal Muse

Immortal Muse

by Stephen Leigh

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780756409166
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: 03/03/2015
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 821,671
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Stephen Leigh is a Cincinnati-based, award-winning author with nineteen science fiction novels and over forty short stories published. He has been a frequent contributor to the Hugo-nominated shared world series Wild Cards, edited by George R. R. Martin. He teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University. Stephen Leigh has written Immortal Muse, The Crow of Connemara, and the fantasy trilogy Assassin's Dawn. He can be found at

Read an Excerpt

Camille Kenny


THE BENT CALLIOPE REEKED of spilled beer and desperate egos. The aromatic combination spilled out of the open door, past the bouncer, and onto Rivington Street, wrapping insistent arms around Camille and shepherding her toward the tavern.

“Hey, Ink!” she called to the bouncer, sitting with one ample ass cheek on a rickety barstool to the side of the entrance as he texted on his phone. “Warm enough for you?”

Ink’s pear-shaped body leaned back against pallid bricks. The yellow tubes of the Bent Calliope’s neon sign glowed above him, lending the man the sickly pallor of the living dead. The hue didn’t manage to make his thinning hair, too-wide features, or the poorly-drawn tattoos crawling his arms and emerging from the frayed collar of his plain white tee appear any more attractive. “Too warm,” he answered, glancing up from the phone. “Better out here than in there, though.” There was no ambition burning inside Ink at all; he had been sitting on the same stool the first night Camille wandered into the Bent Calliope a year ago; she suspected he would still be there, growing steadily older, heavier, and more sedentary, long after she left.

“I hope the beer’s cold, at least.”

“When you find out, let me know.” He nodded his head toward the door. The white noise of a dozen simultaneous conversations drifted through the rumble of two-decade-old, stale music. “Half your crowd’s in there already.” There was a subtle, possessive emphasis on the “your.”

“Thanks, Ink.”

Camille entered the Bent Calliope largely unnoticed as she passed through the crowd, one of the advantages of being significantly shorter than most people. Her group was there, as Ink had said: in the rear corner farthest from the jukebox speakers, where one could nearly carry on a conversation without shouting. Through the shifting forest of bodies, Camille glimpsed Morris’ shaved head gleaming in the fluorescent lights, his dark skin beaded with sweat. Despite an early May heat wave, the Bent Calliope’s proprietors had yet to turn on the air-conditioning. Morris seemed to be gesturing to someone to his left—probably Mercedes, who was also one of the regulars.

Camille could feel their pull, an almost physical tug in her head as if emerald ropes were snaking out from them to her, lashing around her and pulling her toward them, and yet . . .

There was someone else here. Someone whose pull was noticeably stronger.

Close to the polished, glass-ringed bar, Camille stopped. A man sat on one of the stools, his left hand cradling a pint glass. He was the source. He stared at her; when she glanced at him, the sense of instant connection made her inhale. A green aura hung around him, so bright that she wondered that none of the customers could see it. As their gazes met, he looked away quickly, guiltily. Camille continued to study him as he pretended to be looking at his foam-smeared glass. She could see the glimmer of a gold ring on his left hand, and her mouth tightened. Well, there’s a problem . . . Camille sidled up to the bar near him, taking a stool that had just been vacated. “Hey, Tom,” she called out to one of the bartenders. “A pint, please.” She set a five down on the bar top.

As Tom placed the glass under the Guinness tap, Camille noticed that the man was watching her again, this time via the mirror behind the bar. She could see her reflection also: a woman most people would guess to be in her early-to-mid-twenties; wavy, auburn hair settling just below her shoulders; large green eyes; petite enough that she sometimes still found herself being carded. Again, when he realized she had noticed his attention, he turned back to his glass once more. The feeling of connection remained, the sense of needing to know who he was, what he was. Inviting tendrils the color of spring grass slid from him toward her and she wanted to touch them and taste them, but she did not. She watched and she wondered: he was a painter, she had almost decided when Tom set the Guinness in front of her, curtains of light- brown foam still falling from the head into the darkness of the stout. She let the drink settle. She felt the stranger’s intention in the moment before he moved, frowning a bit as he slid from his barstool, circling behind the two other patrons between them. She could feel him at her back, a pressure all along her spine. He enveloped her in his unseen radiance, and it was nearly too much to bear.

She waited, taking a slow sip of the Guinness and licking the foam from her lips. When he still didn’t say anything, she turned slowly on the stool. His hair was a sandy brown and longish, scraggly enough that it looked like it had been months since it had last been cut. Strands frothed around the collar of a blue sweater over an oxford shirt; the sweater was rumpled, as if he just pulled it out of an overstuffed drawer and put it on. He had the build of a runner. His height was perhaps six feet or an inch or so taller. She held his gaze for a moment: his eyes were that shade that might be a light blue, a pale green, or even a dappled gray depending on the light, and she liked the faint crinkles at their corners, which told her that he smiled a lot.

She glanced significantly at his left hand. “You’re supposed to take that off first,” she told him. “Though the white line would still be a dead giveaway. Women know to look for it.”

She was pleased to see him flush, and more pleased to see that he made no attempt to cover the ring with his other hand or put it behind his back—though he did glance at her own unadorned left hand. In- stead, he held up his hand as if seeing the ring for the first time himself. No, not a painter, or there’d be pigment under those fingernails . . . Maybe a writer? “That’s not why—” he began, then shook his head. She found she liked his voice, too: a warm, easy baritone.

Why are they always already married? It just makes things complicated. There was no answer to that. There never was.

He gave a long exhalation that sounded more like a sigh. “Look, umm, jeez . . . I don’t really know how to say this. It’s just…”

Camille found that she was smiling in spite of her reservations; his smile in return deepened the lines around his eyes: a genuine smile, an inviting one. “It’s just . . . ?” she prompted.

Another exhalation. “I’m a photographer—a professional. That’s how I make my living. I was wondering . . . Have you ever modeled before?”

“If that’s a pickup line, Mr. Married Photographer, I have to tell you that it’s really beyond lame.”

He was shaking his head before she finished. “No, no,” he said hurriedly. “It’s . . . well, you have an interesting face—and an interesting accent, too, I have to say. What is that? French?”

“French by way of Italy and other places a long time ago—though I’ll give you credit; most people don’t notice it anymore. And, yes, I’ve sat as an artist’s model if that’s your question,” she answered flatly. “And I don’t do porn,” she added. “Hard or soft core.”

Another headshake. His eyes widened. “Umm . . . Good. I don’t either.”

“So there are no nudes in your portfolio?”

The color was still in his cheeks. “Well, yes. A few. The human body’s beautiful—which is, I know,” he said hurriedly, “what every erotic photographer says. But I don’t do anything prurient. At least, not to my mind.”

“And I’ll bet all those nudes are female?” He didn’t need to answer; she saw the answer in his face. “Uh-huh.” Camille took another sip of the Guinness. You should get up and walk away. Go back to the ones you’ve already chosen. You don’t need this one, even if his green heart is so interesting. Are you truly ready for what that would mean? Are you willing to take the chance of fouling up what you’re here to do? The tendrils of his soul-heart slid around her, enticing. She felt, also, the dangerous blue strands within it. But knowing what she should do didn’t seem to matter. She didn’t move to leave, stroking the rim of her glass. “So you do art, not wedding shots and not porn.” She already knew the answer; she would never have stayed otherwise, would never have talked to him. She would never have noticed him if it were any other way. The connection would not have been there.

“Pretty much. Along with some commercial stuff now and then to pay the bills.”

“New York’s full of people who call themselves photographers,” she said. “The city’s positively stuffed with them.”

“I’m different.”

“Of course you are.”

He reached into the pocket of his jeans, pulling out a small flash drive, handing it to her. A name—David Treadway—was screened onto the black plastic in bright yellow letters, along with an address, e-mail, and cell phone number. “My business card and portfolio,” he told her. “Why don’t you take a look at the sample shots on the drive? If you like them, and if you’re interested, give me a call.”

She held up the drive. “I know your name now, David. Aren’t you supposed to ask for mine?”

“Give it to me when you call.”

“When? Not if?”

“I’m figuring you’ll like the shots,” he said. His smile appeared again, a flash of teeth and a crinkling of his eyes. The color of his aura deepened, and with it the feeling of connection, of needing to know this person, became more urgent inside her. Strange colors rode in the emerald, colors she’d seen only a few times before, and that scared her more than the fullness of the energy. “Look, I have to be going,” David said. “I really hope you like what you see.” He nodded toward the flash drive. “Give me a call. Or e-mail me. I’m serious; I’d be interested in working with you. I can’t pay you much, but there’d be something in it for you.”

He hesitated, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. She put the flash drive in the pocket of her jeans. “I’ll look at it,” she told him. “From there, we’ll see. Is that good enough?”

“Sure. I’m fine with that.” He was staring at her, as if he were trying to memorize the lines of her face.

“You have to go,” she reminded him.

“Yeah, right.” He favored her with another smile. Yes, the lines at the corners of his eyes folded nicely. “Talk to you soon, I hope.”

This time he did turn, sliding between the people behind him and heading toward the door. She watched David as he opened the door of the Bent Calliope and nodded to Ink; she felt him leaving as well—the creative energy, the potential bottled inside him, the connection, his soul-heart—until the door closed again. She touched the pocket of her jeans, feeling the lump of the thumb drive under the cloth, touching it the way she often touched the pendant around her neck, stroking it as if for reassurance. “Damn it,” she whispered aloud. “I don’t need this. Not again. Not now.”

Now that he’d left, she could again sense the others in the back of the room; they’d been lost in his larger wave. She took her glass from the bar, leaving the change Tom had put on the bar top, and threaded her way through the crowd. She slowed as she approached the group, though. Their energy illuminated the air, like a sun shining through forest leaves, light just beyond the range of the visible, and she could bathe in it and take it in. It would nourish her. Yet . . .

Morris would be talking about his latest project—something properly avant-garde and inaccessible, like the video of his ice sculpture melting in real time that had garnered him some interest in The Times last year. Rashawn’s forearms would be spattered with paint from her current work. Kevin’s hands would be restlessly drumming on his thighs as he sat, as if part of his mind were still attached to the drum kit back in his apartment. Mercedes would be sitting silent and listening, watching, and imagining each of them as a character in her novel. And Joe . . . And James . . .

Artists all. Creators all. And when Camille arrived, they would all turn to her—smiling or dour or somber—and they would all want to talk to her, to pull at her mind, to ask her opinion, to tell her what they were doing . . .

To take what she had to give them.

“Her crowd,” as Ink called them. Her entourage. Her lovers, many of them. The ones who fed on her, and she on them in return.

Camille’s forefinger traced the outline of the thumb drive through her jeans. “Fuck,” she said.

She turned, set her half-full pint on the nearest table, and left the bar.

She took the thumb drive out of her pocket and inserted it into the side of her laptop. A few seconds later, the icon showed on her desktop: “David Treadway—portfolio” underneath it. She double-clicked on the icon, then on the first file in the window that opened.

An urban landscape wrapped in snow filled her screen: the side of a tumbledown tenement building dark against a pristine white blanket. She found herself nodding immediately at the composition, the way that a shadow led the eye toward the lee of the building where a figure huddled, hands shoved into the pockets of a ragged overcoat, the blue trim the only bright color in an otherwise monochrome painting. The man’s face was grizzled and his eyes were slitted, as if the light reflecting up from the sunlit snow pained him. The figure was sized perfectly in the landscape: large enough that the canyoned face could tug at the viewer’s emotions, yet not so large that he dominated the photograph. She thought perhaps the photo had been taken somewhere in the Bronx.

A moment of poetry seized and frozen by the lens: Camille pressed her lips together and opened the next file.

Black and white, this one: two wild mushrooms caught in strong chiaroscuro, the light molding their forms beautifully, with another gorgeous composition that held the eye. But what stopped the photo from being just a nearly abstract composition was the shadow of a hand, as if some unseen observer was about to snatch away one of the mushrooms. It gave the photograph a tension it wouldn’t have otherwise had. The composition reminded Camille of the sterile arrangements by Edward Weston of seashells and landscapes: beautiful composed and technically spectacular. Weston’s work had always struck her as aesthetically accomplished but somehow passionless and empty, lacking the “some- thing” that had made his friend and contemporary Ansel Adams a genius behind the viewfinder and in the darkroom. Still, Camille had to admit that even Weston had discovered emotion when he found Charis and started photographing her. . . .

Camille shook her head to rid it of the memories and looked again at David’s photograph.

This . . . This had a humanity and emotion that Weston’s still lifes often missed, and again Camille felt the pull she’d noticed in the Bent Calliope. She stared at the photo for a few moments more before clicking on the next file.

Black and white again, but a portrait this time: a woman sitting on a chair and staring directly into the camera. The background was in deep shadow, with light coming from the left, enough to the side that her light brown hair cast fine shadows over the hollow of her cheeks. It was the expression in her eyes and the pressure around her lips that caught Camille: a defiance, almost, as if she were daring the photographer to take the picture, or if she were defying the viewer to judge her. The way her hands grasped the arms of the wooden chair increased the tension in the portrait: she looked as if she were about to rise from the seat, per- haps in irritation, perhaps in actual anger. The woman wasn’t classically beautiful, but there was a delicate attractiveness to her features, even with the severity with which she stared back at the viewer.

Camille wondered if this were just a model he’d happened upon, or if perhaps this was the wife.

She glanced at the rest of the pictures, which confirmed her initial impression: David Treadway had the nascent talent. He had a vision for someone to mold and bring forth. That she could bring forth.

The question was: did she want to do it, yet again? Did she need to do it? Did she dare? That’s not why you came here. You’re here to find Nicolas and take care of that problem. Once that’s accomplished, you can think about someone like David.

She dragged the folder from the thumb drive onto her desktop and watched the progress bar as it copied the files onto her hard drive. She ejected the thumb drive and pulled it from the USB port. She turned it over in her fingers, looking at the name and the phone number, while her left hand stroked the pendant under her blouse.

She fished her cell phone from her purse. This is a mistake. If you do this, then you risk having Nicolas find you before you’re prepared. You know he’s here in the city; you can’t let him slip away and you can’t let him turn on you. He’ll know. He’ll feel your presence here and you’ll turn from hunter into hunted.

It’s a mistake I’ve made a dozen times now, and maybe I’ll make it a dozen more times, she told the scolding interior voice. Maybe I have no choice. Besides, if this causes Nicolas to show himself, then I can take care of him, once and for all. Taking a long breath, she dialed the number printed on the thumb drive. She heard a ring, and another, and an- other. A mistake . . . She started to press the “End Call” button when she heard someone pick up. If it had been a female voice, she would have ended the call immediately.

“Hello?” she heard David say quizzically. There was noise in the background, muffled music and loud voices. She wondered if he was at a party—was that why he’d left in such a rush?

“You really have a wonderful eye for composition,” she said. “I just have one question: do you still want to know my name?”

There was silence for a few breaths, then: “Oh! The Bent Calliope, right? The ginger with the interesting face and the attitude.” He was pleased; she could hear it in his voice. She still liked the sound of him, though. She could feel the baritone tugging at her through the tinny speaker of the phone. “You’ve already looked at my portfolio?” The artist: always looking for reassurance that they actually possessed some talent.

“Yes. As I said, you have an eye for composition, though I suspect you also know your way around Photoshop.”

“C’mon, Photoshop’s just a tool,” he answered. “No worse than using any of the old darkroom tricks of dodging and burning. It’s no substitute for . . .” He stopped.

“. . . for artistic vision?” she supplied.

She could almost hear his shrug. “Yeah. I guess. If you want to call it that.”

She laughed at his effort at modesty. “My name’s Camille. Camille Kenny. And now you have my number, too. It sounds like you’re busy right now, so let’s talk tomorrow.”

“So I can photograph you?”

“I don’t know yet. But we can talk about it, at least.”

“I’d like that.” In the background, Camille heard a woman ask him distantly: “Who are you talking to?” She heard the sound of his thumb muffling his response. A mistake . . .

“Look,” he said finally, “yes, I’d like to meet with you . . .”

“Tomorrow,” she said quickly, before she could change her mind, before the doubting voice could convince her that this was wrong. “You know Annie’s, half a block east of the Bent Calliope? I’ll buy your lunch. 1:00.”

A pause. She imagined him surreptitiously glancing at his wife. “Sounds good. I’ll be there.”

That morning, before she met David, Camille was doing what she’d done every morning, in different locations, for a year.

Her butt cheeks were sore from sitting on the concrete planter, and she was worried because the security guard kept glancing at her from behind his desk at the hospital’s employee entrance. She touched the pendant she wore under her blouse, as she often did when she was nervous, then burrowed for the remnants of her bagel in the paper bag she was carrying, pretending to watch the pigeons in the little plaza rather than the stream of nurses and doctors entering Beth Israel Hospital.

So far she hadn’t seen Nicolas, though that meant little. The Finding spell she’d placed within her pendant that morning echoed faintly around the building, so she was confident he’d been here, and not that long ago. Maybe he wasn’t a doctor or nurse; maybe this wasn’t his duty time; maybe he was working at some other hospital and had just stopped by here; maybe he wasn’t in any of the hospitals at all and had taken on some other identity and profession.

Maybe her guesses and her research and her spells were simply wrong.

But he was here in the city. She was certain of that. The spate of recent mysterious deaths—the so-called “Black Fire murders,” both female and male bodies that had been found charred beyond recognition by some unknown heat that had consumed them without touching anything around them—all said so, the Tarot cards said so, her intuition said so. She could feel his involvement.

Nicolas was here; once she found him, she would kill him.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Leigh seamlessly inserts his two immortals into history, playing with actual people and events to deliver beautifully-rendered glimpses of different eras. Leigh strikes the perfect balance between past and present, real and imagined." —Publisher's Weekly (starred)

"Mythology, alchemy and fantasy all coalesce in Leigh's Immortal Muse, creating the perfect combination for readers looking for their next stellar read. Leigh has masterfully created a fantastical adventure for his audience...The alternating chapters of past and present will whet readers' appetites for more adventure and intrigue, and will leave them wanting more. The author weaves mythic history with a bit of action, murder and, of course, spice—and has this reader wondering why I'm only discovering him now. This is definitely a Top Pick! perfect for those craving a bit of intirgue and history." —RT Reviews (top pick)

"Sweeping in scope and full of action and danger, this well-constructed historical fantasy takes an original look at the nature of creativity. If Nicholas is slightly mustache-twirly in his evilness, the compelling 'immortal muse' Perenelle more than compensates." —Library Journal

"A masterpiece of historical fantasy.... Those looking for a sure-footed, exciting, and thoroughly rewarding race through the history of creativity in the past several centuries—and who doesn't want that?—will not be alone in finding this a book to thrill the passions and mind alike. It is a terrific fantasy, a superlative historical read, and a tragic romance all in one. Highly Recommended!" —SFRevu

"Fascinating and compelling, this might find some award nods." —Philedelphia Weekly Press

"A unique exploration of art, passion, and love." —Heroes and Heartbreakers

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Immortal Muse 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book. Worth reading if you like historical fiction
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book kept me interested and looking forward to the next chapter. A great read.
SELindberg More than 1 year ago
Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh S.E.Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars Stephen Leigh’s Immortal Muse blends modern day fiction with alchemical history. As a chemist and artist, and fantasy genre fan, this was a perfect match for me. How neat would it be if your muse was not just a one-way source of inspiration? What if you muse was a person who provided feedback and even shared a symbiotic relationship with you such that your creations benefited her? What if your muse’s life was threatened by a darker counterpart? “Yeah, artists want immortality all right, but the immortality we’re after is the kind you don’t know you achieved because you’re dead when it happens. It’s the work that’s supposed to live forever. Not the artist.” Complementary Art & Alchemy: Prior 1600, scientists and artists had overlapping interests/skills; scientists had to draw their own data in sketchbooks; conversely, artists had to craft/prepare their own pigments and materials (via chemistry). Artists and alchemists frequented the same apothecaries. The art & science of transmuting materials was a shared goal. Alchemists codified their goal in the substance called the “philosopher’s stone,” which was either the understanding to transmute materials into anything they wanted (i.e. gold)…or the base material itself. Harnessing the power of the stone could also enable one to live forever (in which case the “stone” was called “the elixir of life”). Immortal Muse blends these complementary disciplines. It is half contemporary fantasy (New York, 2010), and half Historical Fiction, which covers a range of times, European geographies, and art (detailed below). This is an entertaining soap-opera/thriller. -1400, Paris: Perenelle Flamel & Nicolas Flamel (scribes, alchemists) -1635, Rome: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Roman artist &sculptor) -1737, Vienna: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (Musician) -1790, Paris: Jacque-Louis David (Painter) -1814 England: William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelly (Poets) -1900 Vienna: Gustave Klimt (Painter) -1940 Nice, Italy: Charlotte Salomon (Jewish artist) Artistic Philosophy: Immortal Muse is chock full of artistic perspectives and shout-outs. I was thrilled for the mentioning my favorite artisanal recipe book : Mappae Clavicula: A Little Key to the World of Medieval Techniques. There is a somber but nicely executed arc regarding the persecution of Jews, beginning with the ~1394 Jewish migration from Paris and ending with Charlotte Salomon’s tragic plight during the Holocaust. There are plenty of moments like the quote below in which an artist is caught between following their muse (and creating something to be shared) and lacking the trust of the audience to care or judge them (or having their art taken away). “Ana let the pages of the sketchpad fall back and handed it to [Charlotte]. She pressed it to her chest as if she’d never expected to have it returned.” Author Stephen Leigh: The writer taps his own artistic experience for this. As a musician and creative writer, who also practices Aikido, it is obvious that he funneled a lot of his own muses in this. I half wonder if there is a bar called the Bent Calloipe in Cincinnati which he plays his guitar. I'll have to track him down for an interview (I was able to catch his book signing in 2014). His Immortal Muse is recommended for historical fiction, art philosophy, alchemy buffs, and fantasy enthusiasts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like historical novels with a bit of magic thrown in you'll like this book.  I really enjoyed traveling through history with this character and would like to see more.