THE STANDING DEAD
Ricardo Pinto

 


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TOR, Mar 2003
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Fantasy/Gay Lit

Carnelian, son of the high official He-Who-Goes-Before, and his lover Osidian, God-Emperor-to-be, want one last day alone together before being separated forever by Osidianís impending Godhood. Seizing the opportunity, Osidianís mother, the former Empress, has them kidnapped to keep Osidian from power. Carnelian and Osidian escape to the outer lands and find refuge with the Ocher Tribe.

Carnelian was raised far from the capital city of the Chosen, the Masters of the earth, and he does not share its attitude of malign cruelty. He takes quickly and lovingly to life with the Ocher. He is dismayed to discover that he has brought a piece of the empire with him, in Osidian. Osidian, as lover and heir to the God-Throne, was a very different person from the deposed Osidian now obsessed with revenge. To Osidian, anyone and anything is a tool to be used for vengeance. In building a power base from which to bring down his mother and brother, his gradual poisoning of the tribal civilization is merely a political gambit.

As a Master with a conscience, Carnelian is at war with the callousness expected of him. Osidian finds ways to make Carnelianís kindness useful against the tribes, so that guilt becomes a ruling emotion of Carnelianís life. When he falls in love with a tribesman and adopts a war orphan, they become Osidianís most powerful weapons against Carnelian. Yet his loyalty to Osidian keeps returning at the wrong times.

THE STANDING DEAD is the second in a series called The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. The first book, THE CHOSEN, covered Carnelianís education in the depraved society of the Masters. In THE STANDING DEAD, author Ricardo Pinto creates another entire society for Carnelian to adapt to. Plains life is demanding but suffused with love and harmony with nature. This makes the warring of his loyalties that much more painful. At every turn Osidian is a danger Carnelian cannot bring himself to deal with. As this stage of Osidianís plans come to culmination, at the end of THE STANDING DEAD, we see the next stage wearing the face of despair, to be resolved in the sequel Pinto is currently writing.

Pintoís writing is beautiful, concussive, full of the power of the tribesí Earthsky and the horror of its destruction. It is enough to make you squirm inside, when you read excerpts from Chosen philosophy: "Do not the Wise teach that the sounds of agony are the vocal mode the Dark God most prefers? If this is so, then it follows that the most sublime form such a performance might attain is that in which the vocalist is skillfully excruciated and held shimmering at the very brink of death." Quotes such as these build to a point where it becomes appalling when Carnelian passes up one of his many chances to exterminate Osidian.

The most inviting element of THE STANDING DEAD is the family feeling Carnelian develops with the Ocher family who adopt him. The hearth mother protects him, he wins acceptance by sharing the most menial of chores, he draws comfort from their Mother Tree. Here also is the fantasy within a fantasy story: Fern, the man he falls in love with, returns his attraction although such relationships are not a part of this culture; and Fernís wife, after her first distress, even learns to accept it. In the several gay lit books I have reviewed lately, this wish fulfillment, that anyone the gay hero wants is sexually receptive without consequence, is the element they have most in common.

It was my promise to review that kept me reading through this very long and progressively more painful book. I will know better than to accept the sequel when it is released.

Apr 2003 Review Originally Published on WOR

 

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