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The Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale Of Henghis Hapthorn by Matthew Hughes
Review by Terry Weyna
Night Shade Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597800914
Date: 01 September 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Hapthorn's voice might be annoying, but his story is worth reading.

In Matthew Hughes's last several books about the discriminator Henghis Hapthorn, The Gist Hunter and Other Stories and Majestrum, we have watched Hapthorn reluctantly becoming accustomed to the idea that his logical world of cause and effect is slowly giving way to one where magic, not science, is the foundation of the cosmos. In The Spiral Labyrinth, he is given a hard shove forward into the time when the poles have reversed, moved by detested magic several centuries forward and suddenly confronted with evil wizards and their colorful dragons. Worse yet, the alter ego with whom he shares a brain, Osk Rievor, has abandoned him; Rievor appears to have been captured by a powerful magician, leaving Hapthorn to contend alone with forces he can barely comprehend.

The adventure begins when Hapthorn is retained on a missing persons case. Chup Choweri disappeared when on an errand to buy a surprise for his beloved and devoted wife. The spaceship which he intended to buy as a retirement gift for the two of them had returned to earth empty, without explanation. Hapthorn purchases the spaceship himself, and confronts the problem: a fungus that grew over and into its victims, giving them visions of their heart's desire and learning from them everything they knew, ultimately enveloping and devouring them entirely. But solving this case is only the beginning of Hapthorn's problems. Osk Rievor wants to track down the major buyer at an estate sale of abstruse books and papers regarding spellcasting, but by doing so leads them straight into the trap that separates him from Hapthorn.

Suddenly Hapthorn is armed with a sentient sword rather than an energy weapon and is using empirical methods to test whether magic works, usually to disastrous effect. As he tries to work his way through this strange new world, a voice occasionally shakes the cosmos, looking for "Apthorn!" No one seems to know who or what this power is, but it frightens everyone, including demons. And so the farce is off and running.

Hapthorn is, of course, an analog of Sherlock Holmes. But Hapthorn is not as enjoyable a character as Holmes, and by this, his third outing, his arrogance has grown tiresome. So has his manner of speech, which is affected (he says things like, "From whence comes this certainty?" and "I will not put in abeyance my other potential course of action."). He does come to the occasional brilliant deduction, followed by the explanation that makes it appear obvious to anyone who observed closely, but more often than not he seems to be lucky, or to owe his success to his grinnet (an animal that used to be his personal computer before magic started taking hold) and his alter ego, Osk Rievor.

Furthermore, Hughes's writing is so stylized that it often gets in the way of the story. He writes in the first-person voice of Hapthorn, which is probably the source of the problem; if you have an irritating person telling a tale, the tale will be told in an irritating manner. It is an odd experience to want so much to like a book because of an interesting tale set in a fascinating universe, but to be held back by the tone in which the story is told.

Chances are that anyone who has read this much of Hughes's tales of Henghis Hapthorn will probably want to keep reading them in order to find out what happens next; I know I will. Hughes can tell a story. I just wish I didn't have to put up with Hapthorn's voice in order to get to the tale.

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