Rating: 4.75 stars
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For over 20 years Dek has lived in captivity, caged like the songbird he is presumed to be. Captured and sold to various buyers since the age of 13, Dek has long given up trying to speak and now the only sounds he makes are songs, music that he is prized for. His owners call him an “it,” and treat him as a highly expensive and desired pet. His current owner, the Regent, houses him in a gilded cage, brought out to sing to his guests or for his own amusement. Now the planet Ymoro and its ruler, the Regent, prepare for a momentous occasion, one that has not happened in their lifetime, a total solar eclipse. And Dek’s life is about to change forever.
Tylen Merodine and his older brother Dourack have been invited by the Regent to observe the solar eclipse in the special solarium built for this incredible event. Tylen has just come to age and unlike his more conservative and stolid older brother, is excited by all the sights and sounds around him. Then he hears music so painfully beautiful it moves him to tears. Its source astonishes him. A slender alien singing from a golden cage in the Regent’s quarters, intelligent dark eyes that watch his every movement, pulling Tylen forward towards him. The Regent tells him it is an Asinian songbird, but Tylen looks at Dek and knows that is wrong. Dek is sentient and wrongfully caged. When Tylen breaks all the rules and sneaks into the room that holds Dek’s cage at night, and Dek speaks to him , Tylen knows he has to do something, but what?
As the eclipse draws closer, all becomes chaos around Dek and Tylen. As events threaten to pull them forever apart, can Dek and Tylen find a way to break Dek out of his cage into a future where they can be together?
I loved Aria of the Eclipse. Vivien Dean’s incredible imagination and vivid descriptions brings to life an alien unlike any I have met before. Dek and his race of Astinians captured my heart and mind immediately from the opening paragraphs:
As much as I crave my freedom, I’ve lived so much of my life in a cage that I’m not sure what I’d do with it once it was mine. I have fantasies of mocking those men who think me some stupid animal, but sometimes, when the night is deep and I’m curtained away from any glimmer of civilization, I wonder if I’m becoming what I fear most, if the lack of true companionship is molding me into the creature they profess me to be.
These are my nightmares. These are what force my hand when my cage is on display and I’m instructed to sing. I will not succumb to complacency, no matter how impossible my circumstances seem.
The powerful emotions that ring out from Dek imprisoned in his cage bring the reader intimately into his mindset and we are ensnared along with him. Dean has created a magical, shadowy world as Dek’s birthplace. As Dek starts to relay his history to Tylen, we get glimpses of Astinia, filled with his species that migrate, and sing and fly across the waters. A sentence here and there, they only serve to stimulate our own imaginations to fill in the blanks she has so artfully left for us. Instead of missing a backstory, Dean has given the reader a wealth of clues from which we can extrapolate a world far more extraordinary than might have been created by words. Dek is as beautifully crafted, and as imaginative an alien as I have come across. Just the manner in which Dek creates his music is spellbinding, just as his history is heartbreaking.
This story is told from two points of view, that of Dek and Tylen, an endearing vital young man, in alternating sections. While the transition between POVs is not always smooth as it should be, the power of the narrative and the reader’s desire to know Dek’s future drives the story forward, along with the author’s lovely way with the language and descriptions of the events unfolding. Here we listen to Dek as he “sings” his music:
I was lost in the music when the doors swung open and Johaf, the porter, announced the Regent’s first guests. Their approaching footsteps added an unwanted bass to the music, so I closed my eyes and concentrated inward, on the way I tipped and tilted my hands to stir the webbing into the proper notes, on the vibrations in my vocal folds as I sang the lower line. Like most of my songs, this had no words, nothing to distract from the purity of the music. Everyone could understand. Everyone could appreciate.
From that passage, we start to get an understanding of some of Dek’s physiology but we don’t really see him until Tylen does, then it all comes together. This method both stirs our imagination, and leaves us satisfied with substance. I won’t spoil the surprise of Dek but leave that to this marvelous story.
Everything works here, from the settings to the characterizations. But even more amazing is the “aha” moment at the end with the eclipse and Dek as its stars. I was not prepared for the inspired idea that culminates the story, almost visionary. It delights me each time I think about it. So too is the ending. There are two issues for me where I had to suspend that part of me that asks down to earth questions. One would be how does someone so humanoid be mistaken for a non-sentient being for over 20 years? The other cannot be asked without giving away a major spoiler for the story. But my love for Vivien Dean’s tale outweigh such pragmatic issues.
If you love science fiction, this story is for you. If you love music, all aspects of music, real and imagined, Aria of the Eclipse is for you. It is magical, conceptually stirring, and still full of romance. And all of that is accomplished in 120 pages. I wanted more, so much more but am happy with those that I got. You will be too. Grab this one up as it is highly recommended to all.
Cover Art by Trace Edward Zaber. Just absolutely gorgeous. One of the best I have seen.