Tabloids sold in the Duchy of Stonehold claim that the High King, Caliph Howl, has been raised from the dead. His consort, Sena lilool, both blamed and celebrated for this act, finds that a macabre cult has sprung up around her. As this news spreads, Stonehold - long considered unimportant - comes to the attention of the emperors in the southern countries. They have learned that the seed of Sena's immense power lies in an occult book, and they are eager to claim it for their own. Desparate to protect his people from the southern threat, Caliph is drawn into a summit of the world's leaders despite the knowledge that it is a trap. As Sena's bizarre actions threaten to unravel the summit, Caliph watches her slip through his fingers into madness. But is it really madness? Sena is playing a dangerous game of strategy and deceit as she attempts to outwit a force that has spent millennia preparing for this day. Caliph is the only connection left to her former life, but it's his blood that Sena needs to see her plans through to their explosive finish.
REVIEWER: Fletcher Vredenburgh (Courtesy of Swords and Sorcery: A Blog)
Don't do what I did and read Anthony Huso's Black Bottle without having read its predecessor, The Last Page. Failing to do so deprived me of another book length exposure to Huso's idiosyncratic world of zeppelins, a bold king, a royal consort in possession of an evil tome, plots and more plots and Lovecraftian entities forever knocking at the doors of the world. Next to strange, wild science and near-magic, are tabloids papers, looming billboards, carrier pigeons and dry cereal in colorfully decorated boxes. It's a wondrous amalgam of Edwardian technology, modern commercial culture and things man was not meant to know.
Presumably, in The Last Page, Caliph Howl, king of the rugged northern kingdom of Stonehold, died and was resurrected by his consort, Sena Iilool. Idolized, even worshiped, by many, she is also feared and hated by many. Black Bottle, only Huso's second published novel, starts with Taelin, a young woman from the southern Pandragor Empire, traveling to Stonehold, with hopes of do something, anything, to destroy the reputation of a woman she finds blasphemous.
There is no way to do justice to the complexity of Black Bottle's plot. There are plots whirling within plots, some stretching back millennia. Stunning set pieces abound, ranging from entrail-trailing-witch-heads, to exploding-from-the-ground eel man monsters, to zeppelin destruction. In the end this is a story of insanely epic proportions rivaling the scope of Hodgson's The House on the Borderlands or Mignola's B.P.R.D. Stories. The story moves from political struggles over power sources and blasphemy and spiral into battles in pocket-dimensions, against unstoppable monsters and zeppelin pursuit over bottomless continental rifts and stark, empty desert.
Stylistically, Huso's writing is reminiscent of the late Jack Vance's, having a similar penchant for the word less written. The story's near magic is called holomorphy which normally refers to complex mathematics, and, indeed, spell-like functions involve intricate mathematical formulas as well as blood. Sena Iilool's supporters are called a colligation, which in logic means to subsume isolated facts under a single general concept.
Huso's writing isn't all strange, ornamental words. That's important in a book replete with s many strange concepts and jumping points of views. While much of the book is told by standard, omniscient narrator, there are numerous excerpts from books and journals. In fact, much of the deep underpinnings of Black Bottle's story are presented in those excerpts. Huso has a solid control of his narrative voices, making each unique for every excerpt and narrator. His prose is clean and not bogged down with endless bits of costume or gadget porn.
I selected this book to read from the Long List figuring that the big name authors' free books would have all been given away already. Scanning the authors I didn't recognize, the little blurb for Black Bottle simply caught my eye for which I am extremely glad. If this is what Anthony Huso is doing in his first book I am truly looking forward to what he does next.
Last updated by drosdelnoch Aug 1, 2013.