In 2005, American audiences were introduced to Fiona McIntosh with her novel, MYRREN'S GIFT, the opening volume of a trilogy that was already causing a stir in her home country of Australia. Over the course of three books, McIntosh carried readers on a journey through the magical and brutal world of Morgravia, displaying her skill at storytelling and worldbuilding on a smaller stage.
Over the course of the past seven years, she has continued to hone her craft, branching out with more fantasy, heart-pounding mysteries, and captivating fiction. Yet Morgravia calls her once more, stirring her inner fantasist and demanding another journey. And so she honors that call, delivering the stand-alone novel THE SCRIVENER'S TALE.
"McIntosh has penned a wonderful gift for her devoted readers: a return to a beloved realm for one more journey. Newcomers can now get a taste for her astounding talent and perhaps venture back and see what has gone before. Each page is colored with imagination and will engage you until the last chapter ends. And you will be better for the journey."
Things are a bit different this time around. McIntosh doesn't plunge us immediately into her realm of fantasy, though she teases us with a prologue that sets things up nicely for those who have never read her prior works. This time, we begin in Paris, a city close to her heart. There we become acquainted with Gabriel Figaret, a shattered man who grieves for a wife and son, and buries his ache in the cafes and bookshops of the city.
Within his mind is a cathedral, an imaginary fortress of solitude where he can hide away, protected by dragons. Here he can let go of the past and find peace. Until Angelina comes. Beautiful, psychotic Angelina, who seeks Gabe's assistance in breaking free from Dr. Reynaud and helping her return to Morgravia. The only way to free her, however, is to kill her.
In Morgravia, Empress Florentyna is caught up in a typhoon of political intrigues involving her sister, her stepmother, and King Tamas, who is about to marry most unfortunately. The secret order known as the Brotherhood operates as a sort of Secret Service, making sure the Empress is protected at all costs, and Cassian is called upon in this most darkest of hours, when demons rage for magic and power, to protect Florentyna and defend Morgravia.
As the story progresses, Gabriel takes a backseat to Cassian and Florentyna. This is their story, though the three groups are thrust together and must find a way to trust each other and fight for a similar cause. Florentyna is a remarkable character, and Cyricus is quite deliciously evil. A reader will have no trouble knowing dark from light, though the characters are not mere one-dimensional cutouts. And none are exactly what they might seem to be upon first meeting them.
Revisiting the world of Morgravia is a treat. The trials and tribulations of the characters and the world itself in McIntosh’s Quickening Trilogy are discussed and touched upon often throughout THE SCRIVENER'S TALE. She does a fine job at feeding history through the story so that no one will be lost by just picking up this novel.
What is evident as the chapters move by --- and they will move by rapidly once you find the groove --- is that McIntosh has certainly grown as a writer and weaves a dense yet accessible story in which a reader can get immersed. If there is one drawback to THE SCRIVENER'S TALE, it may be that so much is packed into one book when it may have enjoyed more room to breathe if it had been spread across two books.
McIntosh has penned a wonderful gift for her devoted readers: a return to a beloved realm for one more journey. Newcomers can now get a taste for her astounding talent and perhaps venture back and see what has gone before. Each page is colored with imagination and will engage you until the last chapter ends. And you will be better for the journey.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on May 10, 2013