February 06, 2005

Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman

brazenmirror.jpgThat isn't the cover of the copy I read. I'd picked up a copy of the original Ace Fantasy Special after reading some of Ms. Sherman's short fiction in one of the Bordertown collections, and in Ellen Kushner's wonderful The Horns of Elfland. The cover pictured here is from the relatively new Circlet Press Ultra Violet Library edition. This edition is marketed towards the lesbian/gay/bi/trans market which seemed odd to me until I started trying to look at the book through that lens.

I tend to read books very much on their own terms, accepting the worlds depicted as they are without considering the individual elements that make them up too closely. Brazen Mirror is set in the Middle Ages. Its protagonist (though she is never the point of view) is a woman (Elinor) who, following a personal tragedy, dresses as a man to find a place in a castle's kitchen staff. She makes a meteoric rise through the castle staff until she is working directly with the king himself. We learn that the king's great love (though unconsumated) has been one of his male friends who is now dead. The king (and some women) fall in love with Elinor believing she is a man.

These are radical simplifications of the plot and characters of the book in order to separate out the gender issues from the larger story. The main plot element of the book is the conflict between Elinor and Margaret, her birth mother whom she has never met. Margaret is a sorceress who believes that her daughter will be her undoing and so is single-mindedly working to destroy Elinor's life without taking the karmically deadly step of harming her directly.

The book is complexly structured with past and present timelines interleaving and recurring in successive sections. I'm no historical scholar, but it seems that the language and conditions of Middle Ages life are rendered accurately. At a few points it seemed as if the book was a result of way too much time in graduate history classes in college, but those were only fleeting moments. As a whole the book has the feel of true events within a true world.

Like many Ace titles, the original didn't sell initially and basically disappeared. Perhaps it will find its audience in its new packaging.

Posted by jeffy at February 6, 2005 03:29 PM