The Duke in His Castle
by Vera Nazarian
Review by Colleen Cahill
Norilana Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781934648421
Date: June 2008 / Show Official Info /
There are works that retell fairy tales, such as the anthologies of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and there are others that tell new tales that capture that feeling, as in William Goldman's The Princess Bride. In the case of Vera Nazarian's The Duke in His Castle, this novella does more than evoke magic and nobility; at its heart it is the search for freedom and the many paths it can take to reach it.
The story opens with Rossian, the Duke of Violet, looking down on the courtyard of his castle, but even in the first paragraph, it is clear this is not a happy situation. While he is "young and pleasing in a primeval way", Rossian is also trapped in his castle, as an ancestral curse prevents him from leaving the grounds. The Duke is not unique in his plight, as this fate is shared by all the Dukes and Duchesses of the kingdom. Centuries before their forefathers rebelled against the Just King and he, also being a powerful sorcerer, be-spelled all of them. The only release from the spell was to learn the secret power each noblemen gained under the curse; the difficultly was how could one learn this when they could not leave their caste.
The enchanted nobles did not give up, and over the centuries had sent representatives to their fellows, all trying to ferret out the secret powers. The Duke receives a visit in the form of the elderly cousin of the Duchess of White This interesting woman appears in a "peacock screaming-green page cap" that is covered with "branches and ivy and wildflowers, tufts of moss, several apples" and more. That was just her hat, the rest of Lady Izelle's outfit was also colorful and eccentric. In the midst of all this, the Duke must also deal with a merchant who has been trying to sell the noble the relics of the Fabled Naris so that the Duke might restore them to life. Between these two ladies, one dead and the other seemingly addled, the Duke must tread a delicate dance as Izelle tried everything from subterfuge to honesty to uncover his secret.
Like her early stories in Dreams of the Compass Rose, Nazarian has created a work of great power, one that is lyrical, magical, mysterious and enthralling. The Duke is a mix of many things, as Lady Izelle points out: "Sarcasm and stuffy decorum and wicked mercy, all in one man!" Part of what makes this story so enchanting is the exquisite wordsmithing the author employs, using language to paint a scene with finespun details. This is combined with an intriguing plot that touches the mind and the heart, a fairy tale for the thinking reader.
This is a slim volume, but it is packed with more excitement, color and life than many novels. I highly recommend The Duke in his Castle to readers who seek wonder, intelligence and great literature.