Wednesday, January 11, 2012


When Patricia S. Bowne offered me a review copy of A Lovesome Thing, the sequel to Advice from Pigeons, I accepted readily. I'd enjoyed the earlier book and expected to enjoy the second. Just as important, since I'd already reviewed the first book, I assumed that writing a review of A Lovesome Thing would be easy. That proved not to be the case. In part, that's because things usually turn out to be harder to write than I expect. But mainly, it's because A Lovesome Thing turned out to be quite different from Advice from Pigeons in several ways. Most importantly, it's much darker.

Although most of A Lovesome Thing's main characters are academics, it's not really an academic novel in the way that Advice from Pigeons was; the academics appear primarily in their public service role. And most of the main characters of Advice from Pigeons are absent from A Lovesome Thing, the only exception being postmodern feminist demonologist Teddy Whin, who is again a major character here. The other academic protagonists were secondary characters in the earlier book. One of them is Bill Navanax, the angry alchemist from Advice from Pigeons, who is actually happy at the start of the book, because Neil Torecki has become his lover and moved in with him. Neil, also a major character, is happy himself, except for a compulsion to paint pictures of Bill's ex-lover being burned at the stake, a compulsion he has kept hidden from Bill. Cham Ligalla the exorcist also returns, and is summoned to deal with a demon who possesses people and makes the nasty demon from Advice from Pigeons look like Mr. Rogers.

There's a new major character as well, Father Rameau, a priest of the Church of the Sacred Flame, who unlike the others has no connection with the Royal Academy. Through him we learn about religion and the gods in Bowne's world, something that didn't appear in Advice from Pigeons. There are many gods, all of whom are in some sense manifestations of a single divine power, although believers worship only one god at a time. And the gods are tangible, at least occasionally, so that when a murdered woman is found in Father Rameau's church, it's natural for a policeman to ask Rameau "'when was the last time you saw this god?'"

There is actually not much humor in A Lovesome Thing, especially compared to Advice from Pigeons. This may be partly because we're more familiar with Bowne's world, so there are fewer opportunities for the incongruity-based humor that enlivened Advice from Pigeons. But mainly, A Lovesome Thing is a much darker book, as mentioned above. The demon mentioned above likes to make its victims torture themselves, tortures that are graphically described. Much of the action takes place in a truly hellish garden. And while in the earlier book Rho's basic problem was his mix of arrogance and insecurity, A Lovesome Thing explores much darker regions of the human heart.

A Lovesome Thing is well-written, and the characters are complex -- more so than in Advice from Pigeons -- and well-drawn. Conversely, the plot in A Lovesome Thing is weaker than in Advice from Pigeons. Father Rameau's story in particular feels undeveloped and doesn't add much besides an opportunity to convey information about religion in the world of Osyth. The plot in A Lovesome Thing is also harder to follow, and the fact that there are multiple copies of several characters doesn't help things.

A Lovesome Thing's main problem, though, is that after the grimness of most of the book, its happy ending is unconvincing. After Cham has finished expelling a possessing demon from its victim, who was forced by the demon to mutilate himself horribly and is now dying, "She heard the enchanter's voice again, lying to [the victim]. Bad things happened, the voice said, but what mattered was how you faced them. Whether you had been brave and kind. And if you were brave and kind, it said, everything turned out for the best and everyone you loved would be safe." (135)

The book's ending appears to show that the enchanter's "silly lie" (135) is true after all. But looking at the book as a whole, Cham's original judgment seems more accurate.

Despite these reservations, I would recommend the book to those who want to know more about the world of Osyth, or the characters. But don't expect a fun read like Advice from Pigeons.

Advice from Pigeons is available as an ebook from Double Dragon Publishing and Amazon.

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book from the author.]

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