It was back at World Con in 2016, in our hometown of Kansas City, that we met author Rob Howell and I started reading his books. For a review of his book A Lake Most Deep just follow the link I placed in the book title.
Because today’s post is going to be on his book I am a Wondrous Thing. It is in his same World of Shijuren universe, but tracks a different part of that world. There is a connection to the characters in A Lake Most Deep, but it is indirect and not necessary to read that book to understand any of the context here. The book stands alone, but also paints with a well-defined palate another interesting piece of Shijuren.
I became intrigued with I am a Wondrous Thing at LibertyCon this past June, when I heard Howell give a reading from the book. It was a very poignant section of the book that totally intrigued me, and totally misdirected me about the core of the book. I thought the reading was from much earlier in the book than it turned out to be. His painting of Irina and the loss/death of her husbands was a very poignant reading. Later, reading it myself in the context of the book, it was just as poignant, and also imbued with much more meaning than Howell was able to bring out in the isolated reading of the passage.
Like all of his writing, Howell paints very solid characters that ring true and believable in their world. No one is too good, too perfect, or too evil. There are no stock characters.
Irina before and after her time as Velikomat is an especially well-drawn character. Her ability to live two lives, but also how they can or cannot be totally untwined is an interesting element of the plot. One which leaves a lot of potential for future stories, and a lot of unanswered questions, while leaving the reader satisfied at the end.
Howell shows his true Puckish nature in the writing. The best example comes from page 163, the last line of chapter 26: “The idyllic time ended in a night of blood and fear”. Once you read description, later in the book, of that “night of blood and fear”, you will be ready to strangle him for the setup and misdirection that one line gave you. And then plunge back into the book to see where it leads next.
Howell has definitely improved his craft since the writing of his first book, which I found quite satisfactory, and I look forward to reading the other two books of his I currently have in possession. If only life gave me more time to read for mere pleasure.
And when you do read this book, let me know if you understand the prologue. It is a very fascinating scene at the beginning, but if it links to something in this book, I did not find it. Perhaps the explanation is in a future book that will shine light on how it links to this one. Howell’s threads are often deep, but they always connect.
BTW, the title of the book can be found in a riddle at the end of the book (don’t flip forward to find it, read until you get there — it will have a better impact that way). Howell doubtless understands that Riddle. I don’t — yet.