BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Henghis Hapthorn, a far-future Sherlock Holmes, attempts to find the source behind a woman’s artificially-induced amnesia.
PROS: Excellent and intriguing world building; Hughes’ pitch-perfect writing style; story successfully carries forward the longer story arc.
CONS: Despite the multi-arc trend of the universe moving towards a foundation of magic, this adventure utilizes relatively little of it, making it seem a bit out of place in the timeline.
BOTTOM LINE: Another worthy installment in a consistently enjoyable series that mashes together science and magic.
Mattew Hughes’ Henghis Hapthorn stories (set in his larger Archonate universe) have consistently been a source of much enjoyment and Hespira, the latest novel in that series, is no exception. The series follows the character of Henghis Hapthorn, a freelance discriminator in the city of Olkney in the penultimate far-future age of Old Earth — think Sherlock Holmes in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth setting — as he deals with the impending change of the nature of the universe from science to magic. This cosmological pendulum is documented in previous Hapthorn stories (in the collection The Gist Hunter and Other Stories and in the novels Majestrum and The Spiral Labyrinth) each of which deals with a sleuthing case in the foreground. The particular mystery of Hespira surrounds a woman with amnesia who Hapthorn meets while working on a minor case. He names the woman Hespira, and decides that an offworld excursion to help her regain her memories would also help him avoid the possible consequences of that minor case.
Hapthorn, who traditionally used both logic and intuition to solve cases, is now constrained to use only logic. That’s because his intuition, which has been personified in past narratives into the character of Osk Rievor, remains largely offstage for much of the main mystery. This is an unexpected turn of events at this point in the longer story arc as it seems that Osk Rievor’s experience with “sympathetic association” (magic) would be more useful as the impending change draws near. But the mystery here is largely able to be solved with logic alone and when magic finally does come into play, it is to advance that larger story arc as might be expected.
Osk Rievor’s absence is not to say that Hapthorn is alone to solve the case. He’s still got his AI integrator on hand to assist, even if it does periodically engage in a humorous verbal slapfight with the Integrator of Hapthorn’s ship. The Integrator (a pseudo-Watson) questions Hapthorn’s desire to help Hespira since his actions defy logic, the basis for all of Hapthorn’s past actions. It’s interesting to see the logical Hapthorn wrestle with his illogical emotions for a woman who is creatively described as being homely.
Like previous Henghis Hapthorn novels, Hespira juggles multiple plots. The central mystery of the novel is bookended by the aforementioned minor case (the implications of which may or may not play into the main story) and the multi-volume story arc. But Hughes’ writing style is the real star, using a pitch-perfect delivery of stylistic prose that sets the mood and dry humor that is sure to elicit a few smiles.
Of particular interest with this series to this fantasy- indifferent reader is how much it continues to entertain as it slides more into the realm of fantasy. Having the rational world of science slowly making room for a world of magic seems to mesh nicely with my casual taste in fantasy. Part of that hand-holding is that Hapthorn acts as reader stand-in; he did not immediately accept the reality of magic until he was presented with undeniable proof. By now, though, Hapthorn has accepted the impending change (though it’s a secret he keeps to himself) and I have too.
The usual caveat of a latter series-novel applies here: you do not need to read the previous Henghis Hapthorn stories to enjoy Hespira, but you will gain even more enjoyment out of it if you do.