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Evening’s Empire by David Herter

01/09/2003. Contributed by Lucy A.E. Ward

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TOR. 352 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US), $22.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30297-7.

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If I were forced to choose three words to describe this book they would be surreal, strange and cheesy. Surreal in a literal sense, dreams and nightmares mingling with a pensive and epic reality.

Strange, as it drifts through a spectrum of muted emotions, always elusively hinting at something spectacular on the next page. Cheesy because it is based in a town founded on cheese-making and features some fairly innovative applications of the material cheese.

Evening’s Empire by David Herter

The main character is composer Russell Kent, a widower, who lost his wife in a tragic accident in Evening, Oregon. Very much in love, he was devastated when she slipped from a clifftop and perished on the rocks below. Two years later, after receiving a commission to write an opera based on Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea', he returns to the blustery seaside town to seek inspiration and to 'put some bad dreams to rest.'

Kent rents a room in a boarding house run by Megan Sumner, an attractive young woman and sympathetic widow. She introduces him to some strange local customs and characters in the eccentric, isolated town. It must be said that Herter does a magnificent job in capturing the pettiness and politics of Evening's tight-knit community. Included in his cast, there are wealthy gossip-circle ladies, beer-swilling cynics and a Mayor who also serves as the town's barber. The rich local history of the Founders slowly unravelled, adds an additionally convincing dimension to the tale.

Within a short time, it becomes clear that Evening has a secret. Who are the 'Storm Watchers'? What are the aims of the 'Anti-Cheese League'? What is the significance of a small blue box washed up on the shore where Kent's wife died?

If you are a fan of Jules Verne's work, you will almost certainly love this book as it draws extensively on his fiction. If you are a fanatic, you will be able to spot the many obscure Verne references and no doubt relish them as much as Herter and some of his more-obsessive creations.

There are several flaws to the story but none that should cripple it enough to discourage a reader - general slow pacing and non-crescendo were the worst for me, as I kept expecting more and not receiving it. The beautifully descriptive style and understated satire more than compensate however, if you let them. Sit back, relax and let your imagination flow with the story and let any desire for Hollywood movie speed slip to the back of your mind for the duration. It is a non-confrontationally fascinating book.

I look forward to re-reading 'Evening's Empire' and approaching it with the gentle appreciation it demands and deserves. I recommend it to all lovers of sophisticated fantasy and avid fans of classic Science Fiction.

Lucy A.E. Ward

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