01/04/2007. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Immanion Press. 319 page hardback. Price: £ 17.99 (UK), $28.99 (US). ISBN: 1-9048-5313-7.
check out website: www.immanion-press.com
There can be very few authors who can legitimately claim to have had a million words in print before the age of thirty. Brian Stableford belongs to this very select group. Admittedly, his early books were space adventures such as 'The Hooded Swan' series.
Since then, he has broadened his scope immensely and has published a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. His fiction varies from entertaining adventure to much deeper novels such as the image-laden 'Werewolves Of London'. He is an erudite academic as well as an SF writer.
'Curse Of The Coral Bride' is a novel that draws on several genres to produce its effect. The setting and, to a degree, the plot has apparent leanings towards fantasy. The action takes place in an island archipelago that seems to have no contact with any other part of the world - perhaps it is all submerged or inhospitable to human life. The level of technology is that of a pre-industrial age.
The island on which the Emperor Meronicus the Magnificent has his palace has been struck by the latest plague and he is fearful of his life. To this end, he had called together all the sorcerers and magicians he can find to find a way of saving his skin.
Giraiazal knows that one mistake means certain death. Primarily an astrologer, Giraiazal also claims knowledge of other arts of divination. He also possesses natural cunning. Persuading the Emperor that he can save him by manipulating his dreams, he manages to escape. The Emperor succumbs to the plague but Giraiazal ends up in Scleracina. Here he becomes advisor to the young king, Lysariel, who, at the fall of the empire, has been plucked from obscurity as the last descendent of the true line of kings.
Elements of crime are added to this structure. Lysariel's young bride is poisoned by spiders that fall out of a bunch of grapes. Only Giraiazal's hard work prevents her death but the question posed is the identity of the person who planted the spiders. To complicate matters, horror tropes are introduced.
As a boy, Lysariel found a deep cave containing a luminous coral. He develops an obsession with it, driving his subjects to extremes to obtain a piece large enough to have a stature of his bride sculpted from it. After she is bitten, the statue disappears and it is rumoured to have become animated and is prowling the corridors of the palace seeking revenge. Is it really alive or is it being used as an excuse to divert attention as a number of bloody murders ensue?
Fantasy, horror and crime conventions are skilfully mixed together but overlying everything is the knowledge possessed by all the inhabitants of the archipelago is that the world will end very shortly. Not withstanding everything else, this is a work of Science Fiction. This is Earth in extremis. The sun is a swollen red giant in the last throws of life. Most of the planet's inhabitants have left abandoning to various plagues this last remnant. No-one knows why the planet was not completely evacuated.
Stableford's writing often has complex philosophical themes running through it. Here he has confined this element to the passages at the start of each chapter. There, he gives essential background information to the story. Discourses on subjects such as the types of divination give a greater understanding to the plot without getting in the way of the telling of the story.
The style is spare and would not suit some readers. In the hands of another writer, this book would have been three times the length. It is a mark of Stableford's skill that he tells the story without extraneous distractions. It is literary without being pretentious. Also it is worth noting that this book is intended as the first of a series.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA