The Feast of Panthers – Sean Eads (Queer Space/Rebel Satori Press)

I thought Sean Eads’s debut novel, The Survivors, was one of the best books I’d read that year, turning an often hilarious yet one-note joke into a treatise on the human capacity for violence in such a subtle, masterful manner that I had to read it again. I inexplicably lost track of his work for a couple of years, but I’m glad to say I’ve reconnected with his unique vision and faultless execution in The Feast of Panthers, a killer historical fantasy.

Opening, naturally, in a tavern/opium den, the narrative recasts Oscar Wilde, his wife Constance, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), the Marquis of Queensberry, and William Butler Yeats into time and dream travelers. Along with new characters such as amateur pugilist Charlie, with whom Wilde falls madly in love, this team is the only hope mankind has of defeating ancient Eqyptian queen Bast in her bid to take over the world by capturing her with a spell cleverly disguised as a Wilde-penned play.

There are spells and magic and rings and glass spheres that shatter and embed their shards in an enemy, dragging him away as they reunify in another dimension. People appear and disappear, friends become enemies and enemies comrades, all within the overarching irony of Bast’s attempt to colonize the Ultimate Colonizer of the Victorian Age. Both an excellent example of steampunk and a comment on its absurdity, this book has many layers–all delicious.

Eads finds the warrior within Wilde, accentuating his bravery but never forgetting his misdeeds as he agonizes over his previous treatment of Constance and determines not to make the same mistakes with Charlie as he did with Bosie. But above all, Eads is having such tremendous fun upsetting the apple cart and playing against history, his joy can’t help but shine through his narrative. And it’s palpable to the reader.

The Feast of Panthers is a terrific read–rich in detail, bold in concept, and perfect in execution, it’s an enviable achievement. Highly, highly recommended.

JW

© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler

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