“Swans Over the Moon.” By Forrest Aguirre.
Intellectual, weird fiction for Fantasy readers; 5 stars
Summary (from Smashwords): “Judicar Parmour Pelevin rules the ancient kingdom of Procellarium on an environmentally decimated desert moon of a blue world. His stubborn insistence on establishing order, in the name of upholding ancient tradition, sets his own family’s swords against him. But is tradition strong enough to contain the chaos that erupts all around him and throughout his kingdom?”
“Tradition demands, the Doom of Change be spoken, Else that stands shall fall…” – from The Doom of Change rite (from Swans Over the Moon)
Conflict and Design: Initially the ruler Judicar is embroiled in a “man vs alien conflict”, being pitted against a rebellious daughter and the aliens that she sympathizes with and leads. But the conflict is much deeper than simple “us vs. them.” The deadly struggle between “old-world vs. new-age” dominates since it permeates throughout the character design (i.e. the two-headed counselor Heterodymus sporting one baby-faced head and one lich-like, the insectile-Scaramouche dressed in top hats), the lunar milieu (the vividly different cultures of the chaotic Euler district vs. the lawful Procellarium), and the haunts of our protagonist Judicar (the “Doom of Change” rite and the laws of Procellarium are intimately connected to the deaths in his family).
Style: Aguirre writes with an entertaining, heavy narrative that reads like Shakespeare. Aguirre is a World Fantasy Award winner for his editorial work, with Jeff VanderMeer, on the Leviathan 3 anthology; with “Swans” he demonstrates his command for storytelling in addition to his command over language. Expect: (1) Haunting descriptions, (2) Brutal action, and (3) a touch of dark humor: His prose is best represented with excerpts:
“She entered the room, gliding over the floor as if the ground itself retreated from her touch in recognition of her standing as the Judicar's daughter. Her waist-length ghost-white hair flowed only slightly behind her crimson robes. Above her floated two apparitions – Tarans, those wispy souls of un-baptized infants that are often seen flitting about in cemeteries or dark woods, bewailing in mewing voices their terrible fates. But these two were quite contented, continually re-arranging a series of red silk scarves around the maiden's head, shoulders, waist, and arms. She simultaneously swelled and retreated, like a beating heart, as she approached.”
2) Brutal Action
“His blunderbuss pistol discharged point blank into the Scaramouche's face, spattering mask, bone, and flesh in a mist of gore that coated his lap and right leg. He drew his rapier, slowly circling his horse to get a clear view of his surroundings above the fray, but the tourbillon was too great. He soon found himself in the midst of the enemy, completely surrounded.. His horse buckled beneath him, its armor punctured by dozens of enemy bayonets.”
3) Dark Humor “Their ignominious departure from Euler was the antithesis of their stately arrival. The Judicar and Heterodymus left without an escort to find their carriage besotted with feces, rotting eggs, and vegetables. They gathered their drunken pygmies, some by the nape of the neck, and hitched them to their posts. When the Judicar opened the door to the carriage, the severed head of his deputy rolled out.”
“Swans” will appeal directly with fans of contemporary weird authors: Phillip Dick, MJ Harrison, and Jeff VandeMeer. Also, fans of weird pulp/fantasy fiction Clarke Ashton Smith, Darrell Schweitzer will devour this. However, ANY reader looking for intellectual escapism should read this.