NESFA Members' Reviews

A Sorcerer and a Gentleman

by Elizabeth Willey

Tor, 1995

A book review by Mark L. Olson

A Sorcerer and a Gentleman is a prequel to Willey's excellent first book, The Well-Favored Man. It begins with a particularly beautiful chapter of Prospero more-or-less creating Argyll. The language is wonderfully Shakespearean, and the whole scene plays off Shakespeare's The Tempest.. The book is worth buying for this chapter alone. (The first few chapters, by the way, are on Willey's Web page which you can find using any of the standard search engines.)

The book is complex and seems to be the first of several. Though the story is complete in this book, you know from the people (many of who also appear many centuries later in The Well-Favored Man ) that there's a lot left to happen. I'll be fascinated to see how she does it.

I won't try to summarize the labryinthine politics of Prospero and his relatives: suffice it to say that they're as twisted as those of Amber though a bit more mature (but only a bit!). Events in A Sorcerer and a Gentleman seem motivated by three parts lust for power and one part lust for knowledge (with a smattering of lust for revenge and just plain old lust thrown in).

When Prospero secretly founds Argyll, Freia is a young woman -- scarcely more than a girl -- and her personality is quite different than it will be later after she's ruled Argyll for centuries. Yet it is a measure of Willey's skill as a writer that I found it easy to believe that the two Freias were one and the same person.

Along with Freia and Prospero, Dewar, Freia's half-brother, is the third main character. Dewer is unknown to Prospero who meets him first as an honorable sorcerer before knowing him as a son. Evidently in Willey's universe, being a sorcerer and also a gentleman is unheard of, so Dewar's achievement of both statuses titles the book.

When I reviewed The Well-Favored Man, I noted that it might be considered to be Amber done right using real people for the royal family. A Sorcerer and a Gentleman underscores that, though it might better be subtitled "Amber Meets Jane Austin".


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