I decided to read The Mystic Marriage: A Novel of Alpennia after meeting its author at MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 WorldCon.
Heather Rose Jones was one of the first new people we met, by chance, at the Con, and we had a pleasant conversation over figuring out directions and the lay of the convention center. She gave us helpful advice on how to take best advantage of our first Con, and when I learned she was an author and panelist, decided I wanted to attend one of her panels. The panel we attended she was the moderator, and I was impressed with how she brought out the ideas of the other panelists without steering them to her way of thinking.
At that stage I decided I would read one of her books, just to see what she wrote. I had no idea if it was the sort of story I like or not, but I am the type that can read and get through just about anything.
Fortunately I didn’t have to call upon that talent for this book. The Mystic Marriage is the second book in the Alpennia series, but I read it first because, being cheap (apologies Ms. Jones, for not providing you another sale), I got the book through interlibrary loan. I went to WorldCat and requested all five books I could find under her name, and waited to see which requests would be fulfilled. This book came first, and so I started reading it. The first book, Daughter of Mystery, is now waiting for me to pick it up at the library.
I am trying to decide how this book should be classified. Genre classifications don’t deter me, but if someone asked what it was, I might be hard-pressed to say. There are definite elements of romance — at least as I understand the genre (not usually reading them). It had definite alternate history elements, being set in a fictitious European country after the Napoleonic wars (1821). Yet there are also both definite fantasy and science fiction elements: Alchemy (not the iron to gold type) is treated a a serious, if esoteric science, and the forms of public religious ceremonies is its own science for getting the favor of God and the Saints.
I had heard of alchemy before. The way Jones portrayed it done, the detail, lends it a living believability. Her descriptions of the thaumaturgist elements of the story led me to wonder how historically realistic they might be versus just a special fabric of the story she was spinning.
Which is a good way to segue to the discussion of the story itself. When all is said and done, no matter how good a backdrop the author creates, the book always succeeds on the story: the characters she creates and the challenges they face. This one kept me reading; her use of several characters voices and points of view, each pre-eminent in any particular chapter, took me a moment to get used to, and to recognize the voice of each person, but the effect was well done.
The dilemma itself was multifaceted and organic, like life, leading to several confrontations and climaxes before the end, all seeming natural outcomes, nothing overdone, yet everything properly perilous.
And the characters themselves were well done. The perspectives, and all the significant characters, were women. With the wrong author that could have made them unappealing to the male audience. Jones, however, portrayed them as interesting, sympathetic, flawed people. Gender was irrelevant to my interest and sympathies for them, though the fact of their gender, and their orientation, was an important part of who they were and how they resolved their issues. They held a unique, eccentric, and somewhat precarious position in their society. Jones portrayed them as full people, more than just those specific labels, showing how those attributes played out through the same wants, hopes and dreams that all humans had.
I wouldn’t say the book was the next bestseller. It as better than that. It was a story well told, well written, from a solid author who hopefully will continue to write more books with solid stories and compelling characters. This book is well worth the read.