Sean Stewart:Nobody's Son

Sean Stewart's a great writer. If you haven't checked out his first novel Passion Play, which should be available in the States by now, then do so. This novel is totally different, but still good.

In the first chapter, the protagonist, Shielder's Mark, removes the ancient curse from the Ghostwood, for which the King has promised great reward. Mark is utterly lowborn, by the way, and not anyone's idea of a hero, but he succeeds where others have failed perhaps because of this.

In the second chapter, he goes to court to claim his reward--which, by this point, he expects to be substantial. He is smitten with the King's youngest daughter, and asks for her hand, which is granted.

Sound like a fairy-tale so far? Not a chance. The King's youngest daughter, Gail, is about as far from a fairy-tale princess as you can get and still be the daughter of a King. And Mark would be totally lost in the intrigues of court, without the aid of Gail, her maid and confidante Lissa, and the scholar Valerian(who is smitten with Lissa and sees Mark as a possible in).

As Mark goes to take possession of his new Duchy of Borders, on the edge of the former Ghostwood, he begins to realize all is not right. So he sets forth into the wood to finish what he started...

But a summary of the plot can't convey the deftness with which Stewart handles all this. The characters are all living, breathing and real, especially Mark and Gail. And Ghostwood seems to bring forth the darker things everyone had thought were lost in the past...especially Mark's unresolved feelings towards the father he never knew.

I saw Stewart at a convention, giving a talk about "Big 'R' Art and SF", wherein he concluded that while mainstream literature is going more towards the tiny incident, and the everyday occurrence, SF remains a haven for huge, sweeping plots and clashes of archetype--and Star Wars, for instance, a striking example of this strength. In both this novel and Passion Play, Stewart has shown he can reconcile this with a touch of realism and still pull off a hell of a story.

Stewart's my choice for the John W. Campbell this year. No question about it.

%A Stewart, Sean
%T Nobody's Son
%I Maxwell Macmillan
%C Don Mills, Ontario
%D Copyright 1993
%G ISBN 0-02-954160-3
%P 233 pp.
%O Hardcover

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com