TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON
R.A. MacAvoy

 

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Bantam, 1983
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Contemporary Fantasy

Martha Macnamara, waiting in a hotel to meet her daughter, finds much to please her in San Francisco. This isn’t unusual, Martha finds much to please her anywhere. She is especially pleased to meet a mysterious Chinese gentleman whose voice satisfies her artistic sense, and who effortlessly remembers recordings of Martha’s old violin performances. Mayland Long tells impossible, witty stories of his past. He listens with flattering absorption. His suite in the hotel, where he has lived for years, is presided over by huge shelves of books and the wonderful statue of a black dragon.

Martha has been invited here by her daughter Liz, who, Martha knows from experience, would only have done this if she were in trouble. When Liz cannot be found, Mayland offers to help. He learns that Liz, an overconfident computer programmer, has gotten in over her head with a prank gone wrong. Mayland and his special abilities are all that stand between Martha, Liz, and disaster.

From the very first page, TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON hints at unlooked-for possibilities. Martha’s innocent vision carries us outward, into the richness of life beyond the everyday. It is the perfect mood for us to know the members of this unlikely couple: Martha and her openness to discovery, Mayland and his ancient secrets. Our first view of Mayland tells us he is different, and why, and from then on, the exotic rumbles just beneath the surface.

When TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON was written, computers were just as mysterious to many readers as necromancy. MacAvoy encourages this feeling and uses computer "wizardry" as a counterpoint to the magic of Chinese legend. The result is a confrontation between the powers of old and new, the ideas of past and future. The fragile charm of Mayland and Martha’s love story has undercurrents as deep as the subconscious.

The science fiction/fantasy community makes a special point of welcoming new authors with fresh voice, imagination, and talent, by granting each year the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. For 1983, R.A. MacAvoy was the chosen winner with TEA WITH THE BLACK DRAGON. We have seen some superlative careers begin with the Campbell award, and MacAvoy’s is one of them. Her pure, warm enchantment makes every book a must-read.

Aug 2003 Review

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