The Hidden and the Maiden – Eben Mishkin

A pleasant surprise, this. I really, really thought I was going to regret this one after I requested it on Netgalley. There have been several which I abandoned, recently. I don’t like doing that; these Netgalley books are obligations. But not even for an obligation will I read a terrible book.

The setting for The Hidden and the Maiden took me off guard; for some reason I expected a typical grim fantasy setting, and instead got a grim here-and-now setting, a horrible and possibly interfered-with pit of urban decay which breeds crime and desperation. And, apparently, wizardry. A cop makes a weird discovery at a crime scene, and things go downhill from there, in the sort of way that can only happen with ghosts and gods involved. These aren’t the usual sort of ghosts (or at least not the sort I tend to come across); these break the rule usually followed that they can’t harm humans. Yeah, that’s not the case here. At all.

One big thing that made a huge difference in this book was that it’s smart. I mean, you just don’t see a line like “And I’m a scold, not a skald” very often. Or learn the difference between necromancy and nigromancie, and how Tolkien was involved.

Maybe I’ll find something. Maybe the horse will sing,” James said. “Singing horse?” “There’s a story that Mullah Nasruddin…never mind. It isn’t important. It means that anything could happen, so you might as well try,” James said.

I loved what might be called the system of magic used in this book, or at least the system of abilities of ghosts. “As for the tongues of the dead…well, there are a lot of them. It’s our term for our magic. My ability to fly, for example, we call ‘the daughter’s tongue.’ Being able to move something physical in the living world is called ‘the regretful tongue.’ I can do a bit, but I’d be considered an amateur. We call them tongues because they rely on the same kind of thinking as learning a new language. All our powers have a sort of syntax of forms and…things. … Learning to fly was like learning French and Latin in school.”

Did I mention how smart the writing was? “Calendars of different systems hung on the walls—apparently it wasn’t only the tenth of this month, but the twenty-seventh of the previous month, the sixth of Lyar, the sixth of the snake, the fifth of Jumada al-Ula, the twenty-second day of Ordibehesht, Beauty’s day of Glory, and minus two days to the first quarter of a planting moon with 38 percent visible.”

It was completely different from what I expected, and quite a bit different from my usual cup of tea. It was funny and gruesome, grim and kind of sweet, a little twisted and a little heartwarming. I liked the writing, and the plot, and the characters – and here’s something: I even liked the talking cat. THAT isn’t an easy accomplishment. I’m really looking forward to more.

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