Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle (Roc, 1992)

Rats and Gargoyles is a very odd semi-historical fantasy. The setting, a city at "the heart of the world," fits nowhere in our history, but there are enough references to historical persons, organizations and so forth (Paracelsus, the Freemasons, the English black bee, the Temple of Solomon) that it isn't a pure invented-world fantasy either. However you like to categorize it, it's good stuff. The world-building of the city called the heart of the world is very well-done indeed, down to details too often neglected by fantasists, such as the dialect of its inhabitants - not pseudo-archaic, as in some fantasies, or spell-breakingly modern and colloquial, as in others, but unique and convincing. Humans are subject to Rats, and both are in turn subject to the thirty-six Decans, powerful god-daemons incarnate in stone bodies. Their mortal subjects labor at continually building new extensions to the Fane at the center of the city.

The plot involves just that, plots. The Freemasons, one of the Decans, a Rat priest, and the Invisible College all have elaborate plans in action which interfere with one another to interesting effect. Whoever succeeds, the results will be such as to change the city permanently, perhaps to change the very nature of the world.

There are four very nicely-done main characters, and numerous others are no detriment to the story.

A word may be in order about the nomenclature. Most of the humans' names are from our own history. The Rats names sound for the most part French. The Katayan names (I suppose I haven't said anything about the Katayans; never mind, go read the book) are nicely alien. I noticed at least two names which might be a homage to James Branch Cabell (the book is dedicated to him and to G. K. Chesterton), or which might have come from Cabell's own historical sources.

About the only major flaw I see is in the humour; it is too self-conscious in many places, and so is not as funny as it could have been. The characters know they are being funny, and it spoils the effect. However, since it is not primarily a comedy (except perhaps in the Cabellian sense; one might subtitle it "A Comedy of Architecture" :) this is not such a flaw as to prevent my recommending it highly. (9/95)

%A Gentle, Mary
%T Rats and Gargoyles
%I Roc
%D 1992
%K fantasy Renaissance Cabell
%G 0-451-45173-2
%P 475 pp

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