2001’s Point of Dreams: A Novel of Astreiant is the second volume in Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett’s Astreiant series.
Pointsman (city guard) Nicolas Rathe and his lover (ex-soldier Philip Eslingen) face a truly terrifying challenge:
The Alphabet of Desire is the script chosen for the midwinter masque. The makeup of the cast makes this a politically significant event: the play’s chorus is filled with Astreiant’s well-born. Moreover, the timing is significant: the queen is expected to name her successor soon. The capital of Astreiant is filled with the hopeful and the well-connected, anxious to impress. Plus it’s an astrologically significant time of year.
Some of the aristocrats in the cast have been engaged in long-running vendettas. It’s unfortunate that the play calls for on-stage swordplay. The director, hoping to limit lethal accidents, looks for a trainer: someone who can school the chorus in flashy but non-lethal swordplay.
The chorus is composed of persons who would haughtily refuse to take commands from a commoner, hence that someone must be a gentleman (at least technically). Eslingen is voluntold. To his dismay. He is only a gentleman thanks to a technicality (his officer’s rank) but it is hoped that his students will know him as “vaan Esling” and accept his commands.
Thanks in part to Eslingen’s keen eye (and the work of a showmancer), there are no fatalities … due to swordplay, at least. This does not imply that there is a zero murder rate. The first death is clearly murder: a man has apparently drowned in the absence of water. Later deaths might have been taken for accidents, save for that first murder.
The killer’s motive is obscure. However, it is clear that they are persistent. It’s up to Rathe and Eslingen to catch the culprit in time.
A: I often make fun of the Charles Paris books because showrunners keep casting Paris even though he rarely gets through a full play without having to solve at least one murder. Perhaps I am coming at this from the wrong angle. Maybe theatre murders are so common that it’s just good sense to keep a detective on staff. The novels of Ngaio Marsh would seem to support this thesis, as do Jane Dentinger’s Jocelyn O’Roarke books. Perhaps every production should hire a full-time show detective; no more reliance on enthusiastic amateurs.
B: In this book’s setting, magic is as matter-of-fact as electric bills. Although Astreiant’s magic is rather low key — no fireball casting mages here — one’s birth sign can dictate one’s career. Flower arrangements can be magicked and weaponized.
C: Speaking of low key … Rathe and Eslingen’s relationship progresses without florid relationship drama (they are neither of them romance-addled teenagers; they are competent adults). Also, the authors take a cool, controlled approach to the subject. The restraint allows the reader’s imagination to take flight. I would not be surprised to discover that this series has an avid fan-fic community.
D: Avid mystery readers should be able to connect the dots for themselves; if they cannot, well, that’s what the protagonists will do. In any case, the true focus of the plot is on Rathe and Eslingen, who both happen to be appealing characters.
This would be a fine read for a hot summer day spent lazing in a hammock.