On My Shelves: The Curse of Immortality


I have previously reviewed Jeff Getzin's dark fantasy novel Prince of Bryanae on this site. While Prince rode as close to the dark edge as I'm generally willing to read, that novel is not the only venture into the world of Bryanae that Jeff has provided. I'm going to review all of the stories, but right now I want to review the latest of them.

The story is told – as is thus far always the case – from the point of view of a woman who will cross paths with the frenetically cheerful swashbuckler D'Arbignal. Prince of Bryanae takes place in the future of all the other tales, interestingly enough; Captain Willow has long since encountered and been affected by D'Arbignal. In all the others (Shara and the Haunted Village, A Lesson for the Cyclops, and King of Bryanae), D'Arbignal makes a direct and usually startling appearance.

This story's protagonist is Belle, a streetwalker who is – for a streetwalker – getting on in years, surviving but hardly thriving, trying to help the new girl Fancy to learn the ropes well enough to live, and hoping to avoid the wrath of her pimp and owner, Piter.

But then she and the new girl are sent to do a simple, if very distasteful, job: be the distractions to keep a very wealthy, flamboyant patron of the local tavern in place until the tavern owner, Werewolf, and Piter can arrange to have him taken in. There are, apparently, people who really want this man… and they'll pay a fortune to get him.

That man, naturally, is D'Arbignal, terrible poet, adventurer, and self-proclaimed Greatest Swordsman in the World (who just might actually deserve that title).

Jeff Getzin's choice to never (at least thus far) show us these adventures from D'Arbignal's point of view is a wise one. D'Arbignal is terribly skilled, much more formidable than he usually allows people to see despite his boasts, and clearly has a backstory and hidden set of goals that would be made weaker by being brought simply to light by virtue of us seeing them inside his head.

Belle, like Jeff's other characters, has had a hard life indeed, but differs from others (such as Maria, the Cyclops of the one story) in that she's managed to keep from breaking under the strain, while not – as with Captain Willow – effectively walling herself off from any touch of humanity. This makes her both a stronger protagonist and a more heart-aching one to follow, because she remains aware of the evil and injustice around her – and her role in some of it, at Piter's demand – and doesn't really excuse it. This makes it a much stronger moment when she realizes that she can make a vital choice.

The "Curse" of the title is an interesting one, which I alluded to in a conversation between the main villain of Phoenix Ascendant and one of his underlings, and had to evade in Polychrome. It is, essentially, bounded plot immunity: if you have a prophecy that tells you that you will die in a given manner, or at a given place, you have at the same time an absolute assurance that you will survive any encounters that do not fit that prophecy.

For some people – like my aforementioned villain – this is rather a useful comfort, as he knows what to watch for and otherwise can feel free to make even fairly risky plans in assurance that they won't end with his own death. But for D'Arbignal, it's a cage, and a very sad one. One gets the impression that there are many things he has left to do, and is afraid that the foretold ending is too near to allow him the luxury of achieving them.

Belle finds that she is herself part of that prophecy, in a most disturbing manner.

This short story is very well written and paced, and adds a poignant note to the saga of the usually ever-cheerful swashbuckler of Bryanae. I look forward to finding out what the resolution of the mystery – and the curse – will bring.


Your comments or questions welcomed!