Melissa Scott has returned to Astreiant! Scott first invited us to Astreiant in 1995 in Point of Hopes, followed by Point of Dreams (both co-authored with her late partner Lisa A. Barnett), and continued since then by Point of Knives and Fairs’ Point, and now by Point of Sighs. Each of these novels is basically a police procedural, clothed in the garb of fantasy, and set in the quasi-Renaissance city-state of Astreiant. Nicolas Rathe, the protagonist, is an adjunct pointsman, charged with investigating crimes and keeping the peace within the various districts of Astreiant. His leman, Philip Eslingen, is a foreign mercenary hired to be a captain in the newly formed City Guard—who are suppose to police only the city’s nobility and the land outside the city walls. The various points stations, however, fear that the Guard will encroach upon their traditional spheres of authority.
It appears that the points’ fears are justified. As Point of Sighs begins, an unusually rainy autumn has delayed merchants’ ships from abroad; when the murder of a sea captain hired by a tea merchant in Point of Dreams (Nico’s district) occurs in the neighboring Point of Sighs, the merchant family implicated by the murder employs Philip as a neutral party between the rival points stations. The rivalry only escalates when a senior pointsman from Point of Sighs is found murdered, and Nico is tasked with solving the case. Meanwhile, the higher than usual rate of river-drowned (and dogfish-eaten) corpses fuel rumors of the return of the legendary Riverdeme, a hungry spirit that haunted the River Sier but has been bound for centuries, who formerly was appeased by the sacrifice of beautiful young men. It is up to Nico and Philip together to uncover the connection between these distinct happenings, hopefully before the Riverdeme breaks free from her bindings.
More than just the latest in a series of supernatural mystery novels, Scott also continues to chronicle the evolving relationship between Nico and Philip. For not only do they need to navigate the complexities brought about by the potential conflicts between their professional relationships against their personal relationship, their still new relationship is tested by the appearance of Balfort de Vian, an attractive young candidate for the City Guard, who has developed an unrequited love for Philip—and who also has ties to the mercantile family under suspicion of the murder.
Characterization is Scott’s strength: all of her characters, from the two main protagonists to familiar recurring secondary characters to those with “walk-on” roles all appear as fully realized people, set in an equally realized and vivid place. Moreover, in a subtle subversion of gender roles, women—who rule the home, the domestic sphere—therefore hold most of the positions of authority in Astreiant: a Queen rules over the city, and the City Council, and most of the points stations, guilds, etc., are led by women. As a corollary to this, just as many of the characters are involved in same-sex relationships as not, so that Nico and Philip’s relationship is not viewed as unusual in any way, aside from Philip being non-native to Astreiant.
A rich, complex novel, Scott deftly weaves these disparate narrative strands and more together into a satisfying continuation of the stories of Nico and Philip.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske