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Sunday, June 27, 2010

"PS Showcase 8 - The Library of Forgotten Books" by Rjurik Davidson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Rjurik Davidson Blog
Order "The Library of Forgotten Books" HERE
Read The Passing of Minotaurs (archived online from original Sci Fiction publication)

INTRODUCTION: Once in a while a book comes out of nowhere and impresses me so much that I either have to review it on the spot if it is relatively current, or write a "pre-review" post as most recently I've done HERE and HERE. The Library of Forgotten Books is a collection published under the PS Showcase imprint from which I thoroughly enjoyed Impossibilia (Showcase #5) by Douglas Smith.

I have not heard of Rjurik Davidson before but the title and cover of the book attracted my attention and when I checked its contents, the second part of the collection consisting of tales of Caeli-Amur jumped at me. Standing at about 160 pages The Library of Forgotten Books consists of 6 stories, four original to the collection and one available online at the link above.

The Library of Forgotten Books
starts with two alt-history tales, one set in France of the 60's and one in an Australia with an inland sea that made it a superpower in the late 40's and early 50's and then come the pieces of resistance, four stories set in the Caeli-Amur milieu of rival houses that have magicians and geneticists - including the title story set in Varenis a totalitarian rival of Caeli-Amur.

The themes of the collection are the star-crossed lovers against a harsh and unforgiving world, deception and survival, intrigue and murder, all against a noirisih city background, whether in France, Australia or in Caeli-Amur's universe. And now the stories with their first several lines and my take on each.

The Cinema of Coming Attractions

"During the summer the crowds came to the town—starlets and champion surfers, playboys and fortune seekers, retired generals and declining pin-up girls—and bustled around the squares or lazed on the rocky beach beneath the white cliffs topped by even whiter buildings."

A story of a tourist French town in the 60's with a special cinema that may show glimpses of the future. A local young con-man who leads a gang preying on rich tourists, a corrupt cop, a Parisian starlet and compulsive writing that hooked me despite the relative straightforwardness of the noir storyline. (A)


Int. Morgue. Night

"At first everything is black, but something is visible, emerging from the darkness, the world coming into being, like a sunken ship emerging from the depths. It’s a morgue, dank and dark, the tiles on the floor and walls grimy."

The second noir alt-history, this time a more sf-nal one involving a superpower Australia with an inland sea; it is 1951 and after winning WW2, the victory of Mao in China led to an invasion by the allies led by Australia; the large Chinese population is automatically suspect and opium dealer Laurence is a wanted man; PI Faulkner whose girlfriend Lucy - the daughter of Laurence - just kicked him out after four on and off years together is now dead in the morgue and Faulkner needs to find out the truth; more corrupt cops and a truly dark story with a redemptive ending, this one works great as atmosphere and world building despite its predictability. (A)


Lovers in Caeli-Amur

"Anton Moreau stepped from his carriage, dressed in his finest suit, his long sleeves puffing out from beneath his jacket, and held his breath in anticipation. House Arbor had always held the most famous balls in Caeli-Amur.The Directors constantly tried to outdo each other in opulent decoration, sumptuous food, and extravagant entertainment. And this would be the night of Anton’s greatest triumph."

"Gratificationist-assassin" Anton Moreau is the trusted operative of House Arbor Director Lefebvre; when at a party Moreau fancies a young and seemingly shy girl, only to find out she is Lefebvre's young wife, his already dangerous life threatens to spin out of control; to top it all, the director suspects someone close to him steals House Arbor's bio-secrets for rival House Technis and Moreau is put in charge of the investigation and given an infallible truth-drug to use on the suspects. Twists and turns, all in a 24 page story to remember because it has it all; great characters, action, world building and a superb ending (A++)

Twilight in Caeli-Amur

"The front of the house is overgrown with weeds, allowed to grow wild and free as they do on the hills behind Caeli-Amur. It’s a grand old fa├žade: pillars to the side of the double doors,which stand open; windows high on the second floor overlooking the street."

This is the shortest story of the collection and the other previously published one; the old wife of a dead genius geneticist from House Arbor is asked
by a young scientists of the House to surrender her husband's notebooks. Very atmospheric and another great denouement (A)


The Passing of the Minotaurs

"For the first time in ten years the minotaurs came to the city of Caeli-Amur from the winding road that led through the foothills to the north. There were three hundred or more of them.From the city they appeared as tiny figures—refugees perhaps.But as they approached, the size of their massive bodies, the magnificence of their horned bullheads, the shape of their serrated short-swords, became apparent.The minotaurs had come for the Festival of the Bull."

Kata is a former street urchin who was taken as "field operative" by House Technis and who volunteers for one mission that will set her free of the House. Kill discreetly two minotaurs since their body parts are highly sought commodities - it is a sacrilege to even provoke the powerful and long lived beings as they have a storied past helping Caeli Amur against enemies - so, using the oldest trick in the book, Kata goes bar-hopping to "seduce" her victims. Of course things do not quite work out to plan when Kata finds the minotaurs have powerful personalities and she even may fall for one. This story is on par with the first one, emotional, surprising and with a great ending (A++)

Lost in the Library of Forgotten Books

"East of the twelve towers that stand in the centre of Varenis, and past the bustling boulevards filled with rickshaws and steam trams, the apartment buildings huddle close to each other, pressed together like vagrants in the cold. Hidden between them lies The Library of Forgotten Books, its walls grey from soot and smoke. Little minarets circle its dome, and the gloomy light barely filters through the blue and red stained glass windows. It stands like a symbol for its contents, almost forgotten except in certain critical administrative centres and among particular writers who shudder at its thought and close their eyes as they write during the long nights."

The one story set in Varenis and containing the most magic of all; narrated in first person by young Alisa, lowly librarian assistant in the library of the title where the totalitarian government of the City State buries inconvenient works; here the authors are free to write them as long as they hand all the copies to be hidden away, the capital crime is making an unauthorized copy to keep or give away. The nooks and crannies of the library are protected by monstrous beings called Guardians who "eat" the souls of the condemned and librarians use a magical pendant to protect them. When one day Alisa loses her way in the labyrinthine building, she finds a "friendly" Guardian who wants to talk with her. Of course things take a strange turn when Alisa immerses herself in a "sf" book the Guardian gives her to read aloud. More twists and turns and another powerful story (A++)


The Library of Forgotten Books (A++) is the best collection I have read in a long time - and that in a year in which I have previously read five very impressive collections reviewed HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE. No story that missed for me and three awesome ones I plan to reread for a long time to come. I really want more form the author and any Caeli-Amur story is a must for me, while a novel set in that superb universe would be a big time asap. Read The Passing of Minotaurs at the link above and see if I am right!


Calibandar said...

Hi Liviu

Did you get an electronic arc, or did you have the real book? I ask because on the PS website it is not yet listed under "New in stock" and is still under " forthcoming releases".

Liviu said...

Hi, I got a pdf arc

rjurik said...

Thanks for the review, Liviu. It's always nice to hear when someone appreciates your work. You may like to know that the novel "Caeli-Amur" is close to finished.

Anyway, thanks again.


Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I am very excited to hear about a Caeli-Amur novel and I am definitely interested to read it asap


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