REVIEW SUMMARY: A wonderful science fiction caper novella by one of my favorite writers working today

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Luff Imbrey is a master thief working in the Archonate under the radar. He hopes to steal a fabled art object with the help of the essence of a woman dead 4,000 years.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: An interesting story with several good twists along the way.

CONS: At only 90 pages, it was a little short. I would love to have seen more of Luff, his stuff, and the worlds he is visiting/robbing.

BOTTOM LINE: Fans of Jack Vance, Clark Ashton Smith, Cordwainer Smith, or Donald Westlake should find this a wonderful time.

I love the work of Jack Vance. He wrote literate travelogues of interesting places and people across the universe and peppered them with fun stories. Matt Hughes has certainly taken on his role as Vance’s successor and made the best of it. His stories of the Archonate, particularly those featuring Henghis Hapthorn have been wonderful tales of cultures and planets far from our own. The mind of a schemer like Henghis is always interesting to watch as plans are made, altered, scrapped, and re-made to achieve the results he desires.


Luff Imbrey, master con man and thief, has been seen before in Hughes’ Black Brillion and a short story or two. This time, he is seeking to make a great score. He is after one the 406 eidolons left following the ritual suicide of the Iphigenza insectoid race. These are frightfully expensive and rare and much sought after by the obsessive collectors who pay high and ask no questions of provenance.

Consequently, the eidolons are heavily guarded. Except one which Imbrey desires to acquire. This eidolon features a quartet of Iphigenza insectiods in a pose. This is the Quartet of the title.

To achieve this goal, he has “liberated” the life mask of Waltrau Voillute, a noblewoman of the second tier nobility who’s grandfather had one such eidolon. Grandfather is dead and the eidolon is locked inside a mutable maze which he used to imprison and torture his many enemies.

Waltrau has been dead for 4,000 years. But her essence has been preserved in the life mask which allows the wearer to experience the thoughts and senses of someone else. He has obtained the mask by bribing a minor official within the household to remove it from a sub-sub-basement where it languishes, forgotten.

Through perfectly foul means, Luff persuades Waltrau to assist him in the theft. In the planning of the theft, he finds himself too close to Archonate computer systems and decides to scuttle the plans and take the small loss, for to come into the scrutiny of the Archonate is to invite torture and prison and many worse things.

Waltrau, however, has discovered that she does not want to go back into Limbo and makes a counter-offer. In the maze, the Iphigenza eidolon is present and she can get to it, but there is another, even more valuable artifact there, the Bone Triptych.

The Bone Triptych is another even more fabled sculpture, carved from three large bones provided by the sculptor himself. The craft and quality of the carving is spectacular and it would be pure profit on the deal. The dual reward outweighs the potential risk of the Archonate and Luff decides to go for it. He has the perfect plan.

Of course, if he had a perfect plan and everything went as it should, this would be a very dull book. That is the beauty of the caper story. A plan comes together, a plan falls apart, someone makes new plans on the fly, new flies enter the ointment, the police are never where they are supposed to be and then the fun begins.

I had a lot of fun with this book. I love stories of the Archonate and the writing of Matt Hughes.

There are two editions of this novella – a regular one and a signed one. Go for the signed one. He’s the real deal and you will be looking for signed books at some point. Get it now while it is less expensive. This is the Geek With (Lots of) Books hint of the day.

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