Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy (Orb , 2004)

The Gypsy has been in my peripheral vision for some time, and was brought front and center by Boiled in Lead's CD Songs from The Gypsy. I've sort of put off Brust's collaborations, of which this is one, although I can see that I've got to catch up on them.

Call this one a collage: There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose. This is a cop named Mike, who is a Wolf, and another named Ed, who is a Badger. There is a Fair Lady who has no respect for boundaries, nor for anything much at all except her own pleasure, which are arbitrary and not very nice. There is a young girl named Laurie, or Lorelei, who wants to be a temptress, she thinks -- or perhaps the problem is that she doesn't, much. The brothers are on a quest, at least Csucskari is, but he has forgotten just what it's about. Oh, and there is a Coachman, who is, as Coachmen tend to be, very important.

I call it a collage because that's the impression it gives: an arrangement of images, fragments that come together to make a picture at once clear and mysterious. I was gratified to learn from an interview with Brust that I wasn't far off at all: according to him, he would write until he got stuck, and then send it off to Lindholm; eventually he would get something back and go on from there. The amazing thing, given this method of working, is that the book is seamless -- there is no real sense of two writers working on a story, no stylistic lurches, no collision of vision. It is simply a novel with a cinematic structure (which Brust has used to good effect elsewhere), cuts and fades and fragments of story that all revolve around a common center.

And, in relation to both the idea of a collage and the idea of a film, there is a quality of fluidity to this story. Characters, as might be guessed from the number of identities listed, are mutable, place is sometimes a matter of viewpoint, time is not necessarily linear. This latter quality is something that Brust has played with repeatedly, usually in flashbacks and the famous digressions, but seldom as quite this kind of formal device (although in Dragon he does use it almost exactly that way). Here it develops a resonance that permeates the narrative, providing a strong link between the brothers, particularly Csucskari, and the Coachman: they move outside of time, or perhaps through time on the most direct route to where they need to be.

Strangely enough, I was reminded very strongly of Charles de Lint's Greenmantle. There is a similar sense of darkness, and the same sense of magic loose in the mundane world. I'm finding two Steven Brusts as I traverse the body of his work: there is the "series" Brust and the "non-series" Brust. The series Brust, the writer of the Taltos Cycle and the Khaavren Romances is a master stylist, an "hommagiste," if I may coin a term, of the highest order. The non-series Brust is an accomplished author with an adventurous sprit and a depth that is sometimes obscured by the distanced irony of the series books. This is the author of Agyar and Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill (apparently I'm the only person in the world who actually likes the latter).

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with Megan Lindholm's work (another character flaw soon to be addressed), so I can't comment intelligently on her contribution, although I will say that The Gypsy is a little bit outside what I would expect of Brust. Perhaps that's where the sense of de Lintness comes into play, that shifting of realities expressed in a more mystical way than is usual with Brust, whose writing is, when all is said and done, generally not what I would call "impressionistic." I do remember reading, a long time ago, an interview with Lindholm in which she spoke of the genesis of Robin Hobb (for reasons that had everything to do with the way books are perceived by bookstore buyers these days; I like her attitude: "Damn the computers, full speed ahead!"). Her comments on the way writers adopt different voices, which I think has a lot to do with the smoothness of the collaboration in this book, were more than a little interesting.

Yes, of course you should read this book. It's a good book. Actually, it's a terrific book. It should be a movie.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Steven Brust hangs out here. Megan Lindholm can be found here. Tom Doherty Associates is here