Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Gypsy - Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm

I've been trying to round up the books by Megan Lindholm (perhaps better known under her pseudonym Robin Hobb) still missing in my library. Of the ten novels that appeared under the name Megan Lindholm owned six at the beginning of the year, the four Ki and Vandien books and the duology about Tillu and Kerlew. I found a copy of her excellent science fiction novel Alien Earth earlier this year and I expect to receive a copy of Wizard of the Pigeons later this week. The Gypsy was also still available which means the only one I am still missing is Cloven Hooves. Looks like that one is out of print but I haven't given up hope on finding a copy yet. The Gypsy is, as far as I know, the only collaboration Lindholm has been involved in. She wrote it with Steven Brust, best known for his Vlad Taltos novels. I haven't read anything by him but judging from the other Lindholm books I've read, his influence on this story is very noticeable.

Experienced police man Mike Stepovich ans his green partner Durand apprehend a gypsy suspected of murdering a shopkeeper. Stepovich immediately notices something strange about the gypsy and does something he's never done in his long career. He fails to turn in the knife the gypsy is carrying. Somehow he knows the gypsy is not the murderer and the knife is special. Later that night, the gypsy disappears without a trace from the police cell they are holding him in. Murder investigations are not the territory of an ordinary patrol cop but this case does not let him go, especially when the body of an old gypsy woman turns up. Again, the suspect Stepovich and his partner arrested, seems to be involved and Stepovich is determined to find him. His search will lead him into a supernatural power struggle the existence of which he never suspected.

The Gypsy (1992) is an Urban Fantasy novel from before the hijacking of the sub genre by perky, vampire-slaying, werewolf-dating, power-girls. It is set in the late 1980s and it mixes Hungarian folklore (which I assume to be part of Brust's input) with a small town US setting. From what I can tell, it received some very mixed reviews over the years. I guess it is not an easy book to like. I'm not sure about Brust but it is very different from the other novels that Megan Lindholm wrote for one thing. It is also a multi-layered novel, demanding that the reader pay close attention to what is going on. Both for the police procedural and the fantasy part of the book. Personally I think it is a very interesting piece of writing but al lot of people will probably decide it is not their cup of tea.

The multi-layered aspects of the novel is something I very much liked about The Gypsy. The whole novel is structured to let the reader move between the real world and a fantasy realm, with the emphasis of the story slowly moving from the first to the latter. The characters have different names for both settings (Stepovich is referred to as the Wolf for instance) and the time indications that head the different sections of a chapter are adapted accordingly, from very precise (05 Nov 17:30) to suitably mysterious (Late Autumn, Half Moon, Waxing). Only the chapters names themselves are firmly in the fantasy realm, referring to the fantasy names of the characters. The different names of the characters can be a bit confusion early on in the novel, but the novel contains enough hints to figure out who is who early on.

Apart from an indication of the time, each of the sections is also preceded by a few lines of song lyrics. They form another interesting part of the novel. These lyrics were written by Brust and Adam Temple and later put to music and recorded by a band named Boiled in Lead. The album appeared in 1995 under the title Songs from the Gypsy, I understand it's a mix of rock and folk with Celtic influences. I haven't had a chance to dig for this music yet, but the lyrics make me suspect it could be a very nice album.

The number of characters Brust and Lindholm need to tell this story is probably a bit much for a relatively short novel. The reader barely gets time to get acquainted with them all, let alone be swept away by the romance between Laurie and the Raven, to really dive into the complex relationship between Stepovich, his former partner Ed and his current partner Durand or the history of the Gypsy and the Fair Lady. It's not the characters that reach out the reader in the book but more the elements of the story, the form the authors choose and the fluidity with which reality changes for the characters. If you are a very character oriented reader, then this book is probably not going to work for you. I still think it is a very fine piece of writing.

I have no idea how someone who is familiar with Brust's other novels would experience this but like with the previous Megan Lindholm novel I read, I feel the author has taken a direction she hasn't taken before. The variety in style, voice and theme of the Megan Lindholm novels is a lot greater than her work as Robin Hobb. Some people interpret this as the author looking for her voice, personally I think Lindholm's talent runs a lot deeper than the Hobb books show (and I enjoyed those an awful lot). I'm looking forward to seeing what an Urban Fantasy novel by Lindholm looks like without the input of another author.

Book Details
Title: The Gypsy
Author: Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm
Publisher: Orb Books
Pages: 272
Year: 2005
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-765-31192-4
First published: 1992

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