Are you guys familiar with the work of Melissa Scott? Because if you’re not, you’re missing out: Five-Twelfths of Heaven and its sequels is amazing science fantasy space opera, Trouble and Her Friends is great cyberpunk, and then there’re the Astreiant novels. I haven’t read Scott’s entire backlist, because some of those books are shamefully out of print or otherwise hard to find, but tracking them all down and enjoying every last one is something of an ongoing side-project for me.
If you’re a fan, especially of the Astreiant novels (and as you may have guessed, I am), I have good news for you. There’s a new one out, and I’m utterly delighted, because it’s—as usual—fantastic.
This newest novel, Point of Sighs, is the fifth book in the Astreiant setting, and Scott’s third as sole author. (The first two, which are also excellent, were co-written with the late Lisa A. Barnett.) Astreiant’s a rich and atmospheric setting, a city of merchants where women predominate in high-status roles, and where astrology has real-world significance.
I’ve loved the Astreiant novels since I first encountered Point of Hopes, and the latest is no different. It’s a wet autumn in Astreiant, and the trading ships have been delayed by storms, making for upsets among the tea merchants. Philip Eslingen isn’t enjoying the weather: his stars are bad for water, and he’s getting the newly-formed City Guard (with jurisdiction over the nobility and matters outside the walls) organised. His lover, senior pointsman Nicolas Rathe, is dubious about the City Guard, believing that they may soon encroach on the points’ traditional responsibilities—the points keep order within the city, and deal with matters of theft and murder.
The murder of a captain who was bringing home a cargo of tea brings professional rivalry between two different points stations to a head. The murder was committed in Point of Sighs, near the docks, but the suspect is the son of a wealthy tea merchant family, and lives in Point of Dreams. Nico’s assigned in Dreams, and he doubts the evidence. Issues of influence and responsibility mean that Philip, as a representative of the City Guard, is dragooned into the investigation—but the mystery only deepens with the murder of one of Point of Sighs’ senior officers. The murdered pointsman may have been more than usually corrupt, and there’s trouble in Sighs—extortion on the docks, and a higher-than-usual number of drownings. But none of that prepares either Nico or Philip for the hungry spirit of the city’s river, long bound by magic in the bridges, but now loosed to seek the sacrifice of beautiful young men. The release of that spirit—the Riverdeme—is tied to Nico’s investigation, but it’s Philip, a handsome man whose stars make him particularly vulnerable to all watery threats, who’s in the greater danger.
This is a wonderful book, excellently characterised, gorgeously written, and with Scott’s deep gift for atmosphere. I loved it, and I’ll be eagerly waiting for Scott’s next outing to Astreiant.
Now, tell me about you guys. What are you all reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It’s a Locus Award finalist as well as nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.