Shades of Heroism: Roz Kaveney’s Reflections: Rhapsody of Blood Volume Two

When I sat down to review Kaveney’s Reflections, I had no idea how to begin. I can’t pretend that my reaction to this book is anything other than a tangled, excited, gleeful concatenation of emotions. Like its predecessor, Rituals, which Jo Walton reviewed last year, it made itself so very immediately and so very intensely dear to me that my ability to see its flaws is almost entirely blinded by that emotional response.

I still don’t know how to begin, but I know how to end: read this book.

Like Rituals, Reflections contains two parallel narrative strands. Mara the Huntress, who has hunted dark gods and bloody magics from the dawn of time, recounts a tale of her time in 17th-century London and in Paris of the Révolution—where her allies include Voltaire and an immortal cockney spymistress as well as Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and Mary Wollstonecraft—over drinks with Aleister Crowley. Counterpart to this is the story of Emma Jones at the end of the 20th century, who shares with Mara both enemies and allies, although the two of them have met but once—and that briefly. Unlike Rituals, the narrative is not balanced so evenly between the pair: the larger share here, and the less episodic, belongs to Mara. But Emma still gets plenty of things to deal with: a zombie god to fight, an encounter with Lucifer and one with Jehovah, the supernatural abduction of her lover, and more than one nail-biting confrontation.

A word to the wise: if you’re hung up on the respect due religion, Kaveney’s gleeful irreverence may not be for you. Reflections, like its predecessor, treats the Abrahamic god with no less a sense of playfulness than any other mythology encompassed within its pages, and with a wit as cutting as it is unexpectedly generous.

A wit and a generosity that gives us queer heroes, and female ones, and trans* ones; female friendship, and female desire, and queer female desire, and apologises for none of it. This carving-out of space within the heroic frame for femaleness and for queerness—this claiming of many shades of heroism, and many of them swashbuckling ones—remains a radical narrative choice for any author to make.

It is a very welcome one.

Full of clever repartee and the battling of gods and monsters, Reflections is many things. One of the things it is—unabashedly, unashamedly—is part of a greater whole. Not the greater whole the average genre reader is used to: Reflections isn’t a simple second part of a four-part story, any more than its predecessor Rituals was a simple first part. Rather, Kaveney is tugging on the threads of history and myth, writing subversion and heroism and villainy into the iconic figures of the past, playing games with narrative time, all the while bending the arc of her story towards a culmination that remains just out of sight. But Kaveney never gives you the sense that she’s groping in the dark: on the contrary, behind the disparate threads of the narrative is sense of confidence, a feeling that the author knows exactly what she’s doing and if you’re willing to go along, both the ride and the payoff will be entirely worth it.

I confess I cackled like a mad thing on the final page, when a long-running mystery finally had its pieces pushed into place. Both unexpected, and unexpectedly inevitable: I didn’t see that coming, but it makes perfect sense now it’s here. I cannot wait to see what Kaveney does in the next volume.

As for this volume? I recommend it—and its predecessor—very highly indeed.

 

Reflections: Rhapsody of Blood Volume Two is available November 15th from Plus One Press


Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

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