In his first new novel in more than a decade, Beagle creates an intimate drama between the members of a family who are slowly blindsided by myth and magic spilling into their ordinary world.
Abe and Joanna are two halves of a comfortable couple who have been together for 22 years but continue to live apart. Abe is a retired history professor who lives on an island in the Puget Sound, writing a book about 14th-century European history and indulging a fondness for playing blues harmonica. Joanna is a flight attendant who lives in Seattle, stubbornly marching toward her own retirement and continually worrying about her daughter, Lily. Beagle (A Fine and Private Place, 2015, etc.) crafts a convincing portrait of mature happiness between personable characters who are imperfect, but lovingly familiar, and an idyllic take on the Puget Sound region. When the quiet rhythm of their lives is interrupted by the appearance of the extraordinary Lioness Lazos, a strange and strangely beautiful waitress who seems to bend people and nature around her, the reader might mourn the intrusion by enchantment. The most compelling parts of this novel are the people in it, who remain vividly distinct, compellingly ordinary, and utterly believable despite the encroaching magic. Moments between characters are described with details that fit exactly—“she thought she could hear his heart beating through the phone, as though they were resting after love”—and their creeping disappointments feel familiar to anyone who has ever been older than they wished. The fantastical elements build with a satisfying sense of reality becoming unmoored and emotions running high, but when they crash in at full force with revelations pinned on one of the most familiar of Greek myths, the story threatens to capsize and wobbles as it reaches the end.
A beautifully detailed fantasy about love, magic, and age that doesn’t quite reconcile its reality with the myths that inspire it.