Urban fanstasy is a subgenre with as many sets of criteria as there are practitioners. Ranging from the Celto-Amerindian universe of Charles de Lint’s urban Canada and Neil Gaiman’s eclectic universe of the Dreaming, with even hybrids such as Mark Anthony’s Last Rune paying tribute to fairies and hobgoblins, Lindskold has stepped neatly in and taken as her purview the myths and legends of all places, all peoples, and set them down in the contemporary American Southwest.
The athanor are a group of immortals who have, in varying degrees, abilities which we can only classify as “magical.” Some are human, some are animals, and others come in between, either changing their shapes to suit their needs, such as the Changer, title character of this novel, or because, like the fauns, satyrs, sasquatches, and others, that’s what they are.
Arthur Pendragon is king of those athanor who subscribe to the Concord, the working agreement reached after a devastating battle between two factions of the athanor in the distant past – we know it as Ragnarokk. Those who felt that the athanor should rule humans were defeated by those who felt that the athanor should remain removed from these newcomers and, if necessary, guide them quietly toward a livable world. Some are not reconciled to this agreement, and a challenge is building to Arthur’s rule. The central thread of the story concerns the Changer, one of the two oldest athanor, as he searches for those who were responsible for the murder of his family. The fact that his family were his mate and a litter of coyote pups makes no difference to the Changer – he wants vengeance and will cooperate with Arthur as long as Arthur cooperates with him. The other members of Arthur’s household – Eddie Zagano, who was once Enkidu to Arthur’s Gilgamesh in the ancient Near East, and Vera Tso, who first saw life as gray-eyed Athene when the athanor ruled the Mediterranean basin – are enlisted in aid of Changer’s search, including the care of his surviving daughter, Shahrazad, who has a distressing tendency to chew on the furniture and pee on the rugs. All of this is complicated by the impending Lustrum Review, the periodic meeting of the athanor to carry on the business of this very democratic and fairly rambunctious monarchy. There is a faction that wants to “break out” into the world of humans, strongly supported by the theriomorph athanor, a group headed by Rebecca Trapper, a sasquatch who lives in Oregon where she and her husband raise mink. Unknown to Rebecca and her fellows, their agenda is being subtly manipulated by Sven Trout, once known as Loki, whom Changer regretfully realizes he did not kill at Ragnarokk; Trout’s accomplice in this is the sorceress Louhi Maki, who believes all men are pigs and at one point made sure that all who crossed her path were. This will be a very important Review for another reason: Duppy Jonah, also known as Davy Jones and Neptune, ruler of the sea and Changer’s brother, has sent a representative: his wife, Mother Carey, Amphitrite, co-ruler of the sea and just as tempestuous and imperious as her husband.
Add in several attempted murders, a kidnapping, dark bargains, and unsuspected players, and you have quite an absorbing story.
The most original and remarkable aspect of Lindskold’s book is that she has taken a step back from what we usually think of as archetypes: she has found, for example, the common threads between Gilgamesh, Akhenaten, and Arthur and built a character who not only becomes the model of the harried modern executive, but echoes back into the far past, intimately associated with humanity’s long attempts to create a workable, just government. This book is peopled by characters who, in spite of their history and their archetype/stereotype basis, do make the transition to real people. Interestingly enough, the most fully realized character is the Changer, who is both the most direct and basic in his motivations and the one least involved in human history.
Lindskold is also a talented storyteller. I’ve grown increasingly ambivalent about “fat books,” because all too often the “fat” is just that. At just shy of 500 pages, this one is engrossing: it’s a marvelously complex story drawing in a wealth of association and piling puzzle on puzzle, complication on complication, and throwing in a couple of surprises along the way.
If by some chance you are looking for an absorbing means of spending some quiet winter evenings, by all means try Changer and its sequel, Legends Walking, which is both a continuation of the adventures of Changer and a new story about Africa featuring Eddie Zagano and Anson A. Kridd (known as Anansi the Spider in African myth). It’s a great adventure and a good look at some of the possibilities in the storyteller’s art.
(Avon Eos, 1998)