Dr. Mikhail Stanslovich has, with the help of both his assistant Henri Vauss and dear friend Dr. Dante Savoy, created a means of resurrecting the dead through the judicious application of science. The greatest test comes while the doctors are away in Venice to indulge Mikhail’s obsessions with music–and a particular blond violinist named Andres. When tragedy strikes, the doctors stage a daring rescue and bring the man back to life.
Andres, however, is no mere mortal. His life and talent are bound to the dark fae with a bond not lightly severed. While Andres and Henri circle closer together, so too comes a darkness that threatens to engulf them. Two young men alone stand little enough chance against besting the Azgarth, a powerhouse among the dark fae. Adding the science and experience of the doctors may give them an edge to beat back the darkness–or send them all swirling into world of the dark fae.
When I read the blurb for this book, I was pretty excited–what’s not to like about someone fighting to throw off the shackles of their oppressor, who happens to be fae? The enthusiasm, however, faded quickly and mostly, reading His Master’s Summons was a chore.
I found the linguistic mechanics of this book to be a constant source of disappointment for me. First of all, there are multiple cases where the author simply misuses words like these:
[They] were kept in the cupboard he used as a carry case.
…a good view of both theater egresses.
“Cupboard” is used to mean a “carrying case.” The word itself has no denotation of portable and the only connotation I can imagine is someone actually hauling around a board upon which to place cups. Or the word “egress.” Some might argue it’s a synonym for exit, but I get the distinct impression the author meant “door,” and not “the act of leaving”. There was also purple prose sprinkled in to the book. I think I’ve got a pretty high threshold for overly wrought language and when it comes to describing music, I can even understand why things might tend to run flowery. That said, if we have to have gratuitously flowery descriptions, I’d prefer it to be from the emotional POV of a character I’m supposed to have developed an attachment to rather than the third-person omniscient narrator.
Another huge bone of contention was how the author handles the setting. First of all, this is a story set in late-era Victorian England (the 1890s to be more specific). As doctors, Stanslovitch and Savoy are presumably men of high society. They are certainly depicted as having the leisure and means to travel the continent feeding Stanslovich’s obsession with violinist Andres Valentine. Maestro Wilhelm Kering commands a much-lauded musical group while Valentine is his super star performer–if that doesn’t make them high society, they’d still be in a position where they would be expected to know and follow the social conventions.
Given setup, I was appalled at how little the text tried to show us how the characters fit into their world. For example, Kering speaks English to an Italian gondolier in Italy. This bothers me to no end because if it’s one thing classically trained musicians are likely to do, it’s study a foreign language. Never mind that classical music itself is rife with Italian terms and it’s not uncommon for Europeans to speak multiple languages–PLUS I believe we’re still in an era where men of means would have made a grand tour of Europe as a matter of course. Another issue that felt perilously huge to me given the significant musical element in the story was when an audience shouted “bravo” to a female soloist following her performance. Anyone who’s at all familiar with the conventions of the stage would know that “bravo” is for men and “brava” is for females. People in the Victoria era would still have observed that custom, even if contemporary American English does not.
Ultimately, it feels like the author did zero work researching anything to help accurately build the world of a famous violinist and his commandeering maestro. More the pity because the doctors’ and Henri balance the so-called music motif in the book with a science-y one. But when things like “elevator” and “black light” crop up in the story, I was immediately suspicious because I felt the author completely failed to capture anything “musical.” It bothered me so much, I had to look it up, though it turns out these items were in use during this time.
I was attracted to the idea of this book. I like period pieces; I especially like ones that have a hook like magic or time warps. That said, for a book that’s mostly set in a non-alternate universe, it’s still important to me to be faithful to the period/setting. To me, that means observing spelling differences like theater/theatre and scene-specific quirks like bravo/brava. Researching for a story is hard and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but the story comes out sounding like the author doesn’t know or care about the one motif (music) that presumably drives at least half her cast (Kering, Valentine, Stanslovich, Azgarth).
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.