The second book in the Prester John series. Apparently, there’s a third book but I’ve no idea when it’s coming out.
Publication year: 2011
Page count: 253
Publisher: Night Shade Books
This book follows the same structure as the first one: a priest who is copying and reading three books which are slowly turning to mush. The copying priest isn’t the same as in the first book because priest Hiob sort of lost his mind at the end of the previous book and now his body is growing flowers and vines. Priest Alaric has taken over and he has, sensibly, ordered two other priests to copy the other two books so this time the three books can be read almost fully. I was rather frustrated in the Habitation of the Blessed by the endings which were very spotty. Not so here.
The first book: Prester John has been a king of Pentexore for over a decade and he has a daughter with his blemmye wife Hagia. Unfortunately, the poor girl, Sefalet, was born different: she has a head (unlike her mother) but her head has no features. Instead she has an eye on the back of each hand and a mouth on each hand, too. The right-hand mouth talks like a normal girl but the left-hand mouth curses and says very unkind things. The story starts when John’s illegitimate daughter appears in his court. Anglitora is the daughter of John and the crane Kukyk. She’s considered disabled because while she otherwise looks like a human, she has just one wing.
She comes to the court with a letter from the king of Constantinople, begging for Prester John’s help against the infidels. Of course, John wants to go. The Pentexorans are immortal and it has been thousands of years since they were in a war so they all think it will be just a grand new game and they all want to follow John. But they all can’t go, so a lottery is held to see who will go and who will stay. John, his wife, and Anglitora lead the people to the sand sea and towards the human world.
The book is written by Hagia. Anglitora wanted to write it but she can’t. Instead she supplies commentary from her point-of-view. Hagia is here younger than in the previous book.
The second book: When the others left to war, Sefalet was left in the care of a white lion Vyala who is a scholar of love. John ordered his people to build a cathedral while he was gone. So everyone goes to wake the grand sleeping architect and then to build the cathedral, even though nobody knows what it is or has even seen one. Vyala cares for the child who suffers greatly both because of her strange body and because of the awful things her left-hand mouth says.
The third book is narrated by John Mandeville, a traveler and a great liar who happens to come ashore into a land ruled by two six armed children. He writers about the things he encounters there and also about his previous experiences, which might be lies or not. He wrote The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (although his existence hasn’t been proven).
I enjoyed this book a lot and it’s just as enjoyable as the previous book. The characters don’t understand Christianity or human religions at all. They question the foundations the faiths are based on but innocently, not maliciously. And they discuss about the nature of (Christian) God. We meet a couple of historical characters, too.
Most of the cast from the previous book returns and I think it’s best to read the books close together, unless you have a great memory for characters. For example, Vyala wasn’t seen in the previous book but she was mentioned. She turned out to be a bit different than I expected. Better.
There’s also a very interesting conversation about books and how they influence reality. Unfortunately, it’s also a melancholy book. The characters themselves, for the most part, aren’t sad but there’s an underlying feeling of doom and tragedy, loss of innocence. I suspected that the humans aren’t going to welcome this strange motley crew to their world and world view, and I dreaded what will happen at the end.
While this book doesn’t end as abruptly as the previous one, it doesn’t have a real ending. It just ends and I really want to know what happens next. Oh and this doesn’t stand alone at all. Habitation of the Blessed should be read first.
“How much better if life were more like books, if life lied a little more, and gave up its stubborn and boring adherence to the way things can be, and thought a little more imaginatively about the way things might be.”