Reading and liking a new book is like a good first date. Something about the book makes you pick it up-- the cover, the synopsis, a blurb, a good friend's recommendation, even a random pick hoping for serendipity. You start reading, pleasantly surprised when your interest grows with each page. Every new revelation signals even more intrigue and mystery that you're eager to uncover. But you reserve judgment, still cautious and guarded knowing it may yet disappoint. You're a roller coaster of emotions, your senses are heightened, your attention fully commanded. You are wrapped in hope, excitement and titillation.
Thus began my romance with Agyar. From the outset, this book has an almost palpable tone, foreboding and sinister. Such exquisite subtlety. It whispers, walks on tiptoes, teases, a slow burn. Agyar presumes an attentive, circumspect reader able to spot delicate hints, finespun threads. It is about one type of monster which it never names but otherwise describes so thoroughly as to leave no doubt as to its identity. The undercurrent of danger is a constant reminder.
We are inside the mind of Jack Agyar, Agyar Janos of old, follow him on his actual meanderings around Ohio and virtual ones through decades of memories. We are inside his thoughts as he struggles to commit to paper the events of his life and the insights he gains from them. Jack has an almost fatalistic indifference. He has no qualms or illusions about his nature and is seemingly without plans for the future. He has no need to rush, too many lives lived for regrets. Yet, curiously, his monstrous nature seems to be treated as simultaneously incidental and intrinsic to the story, casually presumed some moments and deliberately emphasized in others.
Jack starts out under the compulsion of another, the right to choose a luxury not afforded to him. In any event, Jack initially has no desire to question much less fight the compulsion anyway. We watch as he finds a reason to resist and the means by which to do it. Whether or not he shall be successful or must merely be content with finding the power to resist within himself remains to be seen.
Another noteworthy component to this tale is the romance. While this is a subject matter I admittedly normally eschew, the romance angle here is captivating. It is singular and peculiar, guileless yet sophisticated. It is an exploration of mature relationships-- the fundamental imbalance of power, the inherent pitfalls, the variability of emotions.
A significant part of why I read is to be fascinated, enamoured, surprised by another's thoughts, ideas, insights. Agyar is bursting at the seams with brain fodder. So many lines replete with meaning, so much dialogue oozing with authenticity, so many familiar emotions presented under a new light. Here's an example--
"We create our own omens, I think, and then mystify ourselves trying to understand their significance."
And the ending. Oh, what an ending! Every bit a climax, conclusion and beginning all at once. Again, the ending is an homage to the monster, a testament to love, an eternal promise and a defiance of death.
This is the first book I've read by Steven Brust and if his others are even halfway as alluring, galvanic and thought-provoking, it will definitely not be the last. I guess you can say I want a second date.