Through a Brazen Mirror: A bittersweet gem of fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Delia Sherman Through a Brazen MirrorThrough a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman

Through a Brazen Mirror is the sort of book that deserves a wider audience than it’s gotten so far. The author is a lesbian, and the book contains a gay character. Since mainstream publishers are still a little squeamish about such things, this book gets the label “Queer Fantasy” slapped on it, gets published by a small press, and the upshot of it is that most straight readers have never heard of the darn thing. And that’s a shame. This isn’t just a good “gay book,” it’s a good book.

Through a Brazen Mirror fleshes out the ballad The Famous Flower of Serving-Men. It is compelling from the first few pages, wherein a young man stumbles into the King’s kitchens during a rainstorm. He announces he’s looking for a job, proclaims his robust health, and promptly faints. But the young man, William Flower, is more than he seems; his quiet diligence causes him to rise quickly through the ranks of the castle servants, until eventually he comes to the attention of the handsome young King, who is questioning his sexuality. Meanwhile, in a mysterious tower in the woods, a sorceress has foreseen that her daughter will cause her death. Since the rules of magic forbid killing one’s own blood, the sorceress instead tries to destroy everything around her daughter, releasing plagues and storms upon the land. I’ll warn you right now, don’t expect a “fairy-tale” happy ending; Delia Sherman‘s ending is sadder but much truer to life than the ballad’s original ending. But she leaves one major plot point open to imagination, softening the tragedy a bit. And everyone is a little wiser at the end.

Delia Sherman writes in a lovely style of prose, atmospheric and somewhat archaic, reminding me of the early books of Patricia McKillip, before her work became more abstract. The magic in Sherman’s world is not cheesy D & D stuff; it’s the very sort of magic that medieval people actually believed in. And through it all, even though it’s a sad story, Sherman weaves a delightful ribbon of dry humor. I very much enjoyed this book.

“A mirror foretold her execution–yet the sorceress Margaret would deny such a fate..would even sacrifice her daughter Elinor to shatter the mirror’s prophecy. A witch, however, cannot spill the blood of her offspring and long remain of this world. And so, Margaret must somehow bring about her daughter’s demise without death coming directly from her own hand…….”

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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