A historical fantasy set in 1780s Vienna is the first full-length novel from the author of the story collection Fugue XXIX (2005, etc.).
Mattatheus Mowler, an evil wizard, blackmailer and power broker, prepares to bargain with demons to extend his life. Mowler’s reluctant assistant, Heraclix, a giant “golem” (actually a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from mismatched body parts), hides as the wizard prepares his victim: Pomp, a tiny, immortal winged fairy. (But since she can turn invisible, how does he catch her?) However, as Heraclix watches Mowler stab Pomp and drain her blood during the black-magic ceremony, he decides to intervene; he snatches Pomp and flees, setting the house aflame and leaving Mowler apparently immolated. The fairy soon recovers from her ordeal and the odd couple question one another. Heraclix has vague, disconnected memories of a previous existence, while Pomp lacks any concept of the passage of time. Once the fire burns out, they return to the house, hoping to recover any papers that might have survived, only to be accosted by members of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II’s Imperial Guard. Forced to flee once more, they take refuge in the city’s Romany quarter. Among the papers they salvage, however, is a drawing of Heraclix’s left hand: a hand that’s oddly slender, heavily tattooed with occult designs and prone to take action independent of Heraclix’s own wishes. Clearly there are mysteries within mysteries to be elucidated. Once we finally learn who and what Heraclix was before, though, we’re left wondering why he was reanimated at all, while Pomp’s Fairyland is merely silly and dull. Yet the narrative gains power and weight as the story develops, sparking along through Europe to Asia Minor via hell as the author—almost visibly—works out what’s really going on and what the large, well-drawn cast members have been plotting.
Massively flawed, then, but nonetheless hugely enjoyable.