The Gypsy: A Brust & Lindholm collaboration

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Gypsy by Megan Lindholm and Steven BrustThe Gypsy by Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm

Experienced police man Mike Stepovich anf his green partner Durand apprehend a gypsy suspected of murdering a shopkeeper. Stepovich immediately notices something strange about the gypsy and does something he’s never done in his long career. He fails to turn in the knife the gypsy is carrying. Somehow he knows the gypsy is not the murderer and the knife is special. Later that night, the gypsy disappears without a trace from the police cell they are holding him in. Murder investigations are not the territory of an ordinary patrol cop but this case does not let him go, especially when the body of an old gypsy woman turns up. Again, the suspect Stepovich and his partner arrested seems to be involved and Stepovich is determined to find him. His search will lead him into a supernatural power struggle the existence of which he never suspected.

The Gypsy (1992) is an urban fantasy novel from before the hijacking of the sub genre by perky, vampire-slaying, werewolf-dating, power-girls. It is set in the late 1980s and it mixes Hungarian folklore (which I assume to be part of Brust’s input) with a small town US setting. From what I can tell, it received some very mixed reviews over the years. I guess it is not an easy book to like. I’m not sure about Brust, but it is very different from the other novels that Megan Lindholm wrote for one thing. It is also a multi-layered novel, demanding that the reader pay close attention to what is going on for both the police procedural and the fantasy part of the book. Personally I think it is a very interesting piece of writing but a lot of people will probably decide it is not their cup of tea.

The multi-layered aspect of the novel is something I very much liked about The Gypsy. The whole novel is structured to let the reader move between the real world and a fantasy realm, with the emphasis of the story slowly moving from the first to the latter. The characters have different names for both settings (Stepovich is referred to as the Wolf for instance) and the time indications that head the different sections of a chapter are adapted accordingly, from very precise (05 Nov 17:30) to suitably mysterious (Late Autumn, Half Moon, Waxing). Only the chapters names themselves are firmly in the fantasy realm, referring to the fantasy names of the characters. The different names of the characters can be a bit confusing early on in the novel, but there are enough hints to figure out who is who.

Each section is also preceded by a few lines of song lyrics written by Brust and Adam Stemple and later put to music and recorded by the band Boiled in Lead for their 1995 album Songs from the Gypsy. The music is a mix of rock and folk with Celtic influences and the lyrics make me suspect it could be a very nice album.

The number of characters Brust and Lindholm need to tell this story is probably a bit many for a relatively short novel. The reader barely gets time to get acquainted with them all, let alone be swept away by the romance between Laurie and the Raven, to really dive into the complex relationship between Stepovich, his former partner Ed and his current partner Durand or the history of the Gypsy and the Fair Lady. It’s not the characters that reach out to the reader, but more the elements of the story, the form the authors choose and the fluidity with which reality changes for the characters. If you care more about characters, then this book is probably not going to work for you. I still think it is a very fine piece of writing.

The variety in style, voice and theme of Megan Lindholm’s novels is a lot greater than her work as Robin Hobb. Some people interpret this as the author looking for her voice, but I think Lindholm’s talent runs a lot deeper than the Hobb books show (and I enjoyed those an awful lot).

The Gypsy — (1992) Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm. Publisher: Cigany is the gypsy, stalking the city in a cloud of magic. Stepovich is the seasoned cop, who keeps finding dead bodies in the gypsy’s wake. The Fair Lady is Queen of the Underworld, drawing them both into her murderous web… until only the gypsy’s broken memories stand between Stepovich’s beloved city and the Lady’s dark designs.

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ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

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  1. I just picked this one up this weekend (in 2019) and am a little over halfway through and came here to compare impressions. The first 80 pages are tougher going, and I can see why some would decide it is not their ‘cup of tea’. Not an easy book to like – it is indeed multi-layered and demanding. Once you find the rythm and get immersed in it, it is well-written and interesting. Definitely more atmosphere than characters, which works for this sort of story: very much a description of the interaction of the realm of faerie and our world. The detachment from characters emphasises the ‘otherness’ of the fantasy realm. At that it succeeds quite well. There is a realism to it. Though I haven’t yet finished, I can relish the ‘air’ of it. Brings to mind the likes of “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” and other older works. The fantasy realm is a cold, cruel place and difficult for humans to comprehend.

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