Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, September 01, 2014

A Sort of Review - Sorcerer's Son by Phyllis Eisenstein

One neat thing about being back at the folks's house for vacation (aside from mooching like a leech, of course), is that I find myself nosing through my old book collection and finding some interesting ones.  One of these is Sorcerer's Son by Phyllis Eisenstein.

The plot is interesting.  If a bit weird.  Basically, a sorcerer (Rezhyk) has proposed marriage to a sorceress (Delivev).  Delivev says no, on account of they really don't know one another and she's not particularly interested.  Rezhyk does not take this well, and decides that she must have turned him down because she hates him and now he fears that she's out to get him.

Delivev is a sorceress with powers over certain wild creatures (namely snakes and spiders) and woven things, and this freaks Rezhyk out, so he decides he has to take steps to protect himself.  But he needs her magically distracted to do it.  Apparently pregnancy is a suitable arcane distraction, and he figures she won't be paying attention to him while she deals with the sudden inconvenience.

Rezhyk is a demon summoner/enslaver and as part of his scheme, he has his favorite demon slave (Gildrum) take the form of an attractive young man to seduce her.  As demons can't impregnate humans, the...genetic material is donated from Rezhyk himself.

Delivev meets Gildrum, as the young man, and they fall in love.  Gildrum disappears and Delivev is pregnant.  Rezhyk finishes his defenses and things stay fairly calm while Delivev's baby grows up.

The actual story then is Cray, Delivev's son, trying to find his vanished father and growing up along the way.

I quite like the story.  Cray is a good, likable lead character.  His motivations make sense and he's not as whiny as some young adult leads.  His quest for information about his dad is at least as much about having something to do and to get him some space from his well-meaning but a bit overbearing mother.  Things get pretty interesting when he starts studying with Rezhyk and learning some interesting truths along the way.  He is a bit bland, however, in comparison with the other major characters.

(Please note that while Cray does study demon summoning with Rezhyk, he doesn't learn with the intent to enslave demons himself (ultimately, he works to free them).  Demon slavery is portrayed quite unpleasantly in the book and for good reason.)

Rezhyk is a great villain because he's so recognizable.  Sure, he's a wizard and has demon servants, but his sense of entitlement, rage and obsession feels very true to life.  The fact of the matter is that Delivev doesn't even think about Rezhyk.  He's a non-entity to her.  She turned down his proposal for the same mundane reasons anyone would turn down a stranger's marriage proposal, and then she went on with her life.  But Rezhyk's ego is such that he can't handle the idea that he literally means nothing to her, that he's created an elaborate fantasy in which he is as important to her as she is to him, albeit as an object of hate instead of love.  I think a lot of women might find this situation unpleasantly familiar.

Rezhyk's lack of perspective is his major flaw throughout the book.  He thinks he knows what Delivev or Cray (who is, essentially, his biological son) will do based on what he would do.  He never expected Delivev to turn down his marriage proposal, he never expected her to keep the baby rather than eliminate it as an inconvenience, he never expected Cray to find him, and he never expects what Cray actually does in the story.  Or that he'll have help.  More on that later.  Everything Rezhyk does, and every mistake he makes is rooted from the personality that we see from page one.

Delivev is a great character too.  She could have been a straight-forward victim character, but she's really not.  She loved Mellor/Gildrum and was sad when he left, but she had her son and her work.  She might be wistful, but she isn't tragic.  And her strong relationship with her son is a key point of the story.

Gildrum is the last central character.  Demons, in this universe, are disembodied elemental spirits who can be made to inhabit constructed human bodies.   As an enslaved demon, Gildrum has no choice but to follow Rezhyk's orders.  All Gildrum really wants is to be free.  And when Gildrum was Mellor, he genuinely fell in love with Delivev, not that he could do anything about it.

Gildrum is an interesting lead, in terms of gender portrayal.  As disembodied spirits, demons have no gender, so Gildrum self-identifies with the body that he/she/it is wearing at the time.  Gildrum's usual body is that of a fourteen year old girl (created back when Rezhyk himself was that age), and therefore she uses female pronouns for the majority of the story.  He uses male pronouns, however, when he is in the male form with Delivev.  When Cray comes to study with Rezhyk it gets a bit more confusing as, while Gildrum remains in the young girl body, she still thinks of Cray as a son.

In the end, I enjoyed the story as much now as when I was a kid.  I can't even really pick out a lot of flaws, because I was reading for enjoyment rather than criticism.  If I must pick one, I thought the pacing was a bit uneven and I felt as though some of Cray's parts were interludes between the far more interesting aspects of the story: namely, Rezhyk, Delivev and Gildrum.  Essentially, it's a coming of age story where the coming of age is actually the least interesting part.

But it's fun, and interesting, with touches that feel real (positive and negative).  I'd recommend it.


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