★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
A jewel of a novella.
“Bijou’s fingers angled from her palms as if someone had bent them aside under great heat and pressure. She shuffled about her cavernous, shadowed workshop in parody of a bride’s hesitation step. Eighty years a Wizard of Messaline–the city of jackals, the empire of markets–had left their wear.“
How often do you find an elderly, arthritic heroine in fantasy? From the first sentence, Bear had my attention. Her enjoyable, vivid writing kept it.
The story begins with Enchanter Bijou in her workshop where she has been building creatures for herself and others out of bone, metals and found objects. She’s finishing a creation when her former apprentice Brazen brings her a mute, wild street urchin. Examination reveals the child has a necrotic growth in her arm, and even closer examination identifies a foreign object as cause. From there, the plot moves quickly, although somewhat predictably. I was glad that Bear choose to limit involvement of politics in the story, as there wasn’t enough time to adequately broaden focus of the lives of the main characters. Personally, I let the glittering enchantments of the workshop entertain me, wandering around the menagerie of Bijous’ creations.
The writing is vivid, the creations delightful, and I have a whole set of images in my head of her servants that I can’t seem to find on the web, although I’m sure I’ve seen them. I imagine Bijou’s creations look a lot like this, only with more rubies:
This little novella has definitely sold me on trying more Elizabeth Bear, including the stand-alone prequel, Book of Iron. I highly recommend it, particularly to fans of Valente.