Monday, 31 October 2011

Advice from Pigeons / A Lovesome Thing



This is my last post for the RIP VI challenge, and it's one I've been feeling terribly guilty about, because I've had two wonderful books on my Kindle for ages and haven't posted about them. A major part of that was because I wanted to do them justice, so I kept putting off writing a post about them.

Because what I most enjoyed about Patricia S. Bowne's Advice from Pigeons and its sequel, A Lovesome Thing, was how very different they are. They are set in the wonderfully realised Royal Academy of Osyth, the institution of choice for the study of modern academic magic:
The Royal Academy is especially known for its Demonology Department, in the school of Natural Magic. As traditional demon-binding is illegal in Osyth, the Academy's magicians have developed the world's only collaborative program. Using our state-of-the-art pentarium, they are able to safely summon and study the most dangerous of demons.
A new arrival to the Demonology Department is Hiram Rho, whose area of study is natural philosophy, a specialism rather looked down on by other faculty as it involves the ability to understand the speech of animals and suffers from an "oversweet" image. There's nothing appealing about Rho himself, however - he's disaffected, arrogant and unwashed, and his alienation from his peers endangers him when he accidentally binds a demon in the pentarium, an event which will have far-reaching repercussions, not least because it shouldn't have been possible.

It has to be said that modern magic is a pretty complicated area, and that you need to be an attentive reader - no coasting here. The rewards are great - this is a world you can get utterly caught up in, even though you'll be pushed to do any second-guessing about how they are going to get out of trouble. While I probably liked the pigeons best, Rho grows on you as a character - he's really barely civilised at the start, but surrounded by good people like Teddy Whin and Neil Torecki, he begins to integrate a little. The logic of the magic arts is challenging and thought-provoking, particularly as it relates to the study of demons, and this is expanded on in the second book, A Lovesome Thing, when Neil and Teddy enter a lost garden in search of Neil's partner, Bill. At times gently funny, this is a book where the use of language is of utmost importance, as a materialised demon is defined by the stronger will of those who surround it, through a charm of discourse, and exorcised by erasing its identity - a relationship which becomes infinitely more complex when the exorcist has to deal, not with a demon, but a person. Professional niggles are magnified into debilitating antipathies, more than a mere disadvantage when breaking the code can mean a death sentence, as Bill has cause to know. The lost garden turns out to be a prison where very, very bad things happen, not just once, but over and over again, and who you are is thrown into constant question.

Underpinning the world of academic magic is a very real institution, full of all the petty concerns with red-tape and accountability that anyone working in academe will instantly recognise. You'll find the exponents of sexy disciplines (like vampirology, of course), the under-funded poor relations, the quest for outside sponsorship with its never-ending grant applications, the competition for conference funding...it's a glorious, wildly sardonic in-joke, with really riveting story-lines. As another reviewer said, imagine Harry Potter told by the teachers...but, I would add, with grown-up characters with grown-up preoccupations.

Coming late to a review doesn't necessarily reflect badly on the book. I loved these and really can't wait to read more about the Royal Academy - in fact, I keep dipping back into them, which is another reason why it took me so long to write this post. I do hope that Teddy's new friend will make an appearance in the future (author, please note - I don't want to identify the friend in question as it would be a plot spoiler!). There's also a rather wonderful website where you can read extracts from both books and other stories.

3 comments:

  1. They sound excellent. Added to the list... :-)

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  2. Thanks! This series was unknown to me, but your review definitely makes me want to read. Like Cath, I'm adding them to the list!

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  3. Just downloaded them to my Kindle. I'll be taking a road trip next week, and these will be perfect!

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