Pavane by Keith Roberts

Neil Gaiman Presents, and George R.R. Martin praises it right on the cover. Two powerhouse names like that can’t be wrong when they stand in agreement, and it’s that very reason I selected this book. These are names I trust.

This is an older novel and reads like one, but that’s certainly no turn-off. What’s a bit jarring is the format and presentation. A Pavane is a style of music, and the format was presented in here in literary form as six movements and a coda. The basic idea is that this is an alternate history where Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated, and in the mid-20th century, the Roman Catholic Church is still in supreme dominance as a result of having killed the Reformation. It’s a steampunk styled world ruled by superstition and fear, but far more authentic feeling than most steampunk. It feels less like fantasy and more like a legitimate alternate reality. Sounds epic, right? Yes and no. You don’t get an epic here. What you get is a personal account. Each of the stories contained here link one to the next through the eyes of the characters. Instead of a big worldview epoch, you get a human quality to the world as these people see it – what it’s like to live in this world from within a few different walks of life, with the same emotions, strengths, and frailties that people are prone to have in our world as well. It’s a master class in characterization. As a result, it burns slow, but it burns evenly, as surely as a higher quality candle. It doesn’t illuminate the entire world, but it does illuminate the corners of it we visit through these characters, and it casts larger shadows of suggestion into that world. It definitely leaves you wanting more. More’s the pity that there is no more save for what we take from the suggestive nature of asking the two most powerful words in the English language: “What if…?”

4 stars

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