by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Treachery of Kings, by Neal Barrett Jr.
NYC, Bantam Books/Spectra, August 2001, 0-553-58196-1 paperback $6.50 (326 [+ 1] pages).
In works of fiction, usually the focus is upon the plot, or the main characters. In The Prophecy Machine by Neal Barrett, Jr. and its sequel, The Treachery of Kings, it is the setting: the weird, wonderful world in which the stories take place. In its land of Makasar, to quote The Prophecy Machine’s blurb, “Its two major religions are Hatters and Hooters. During the day, Hatters, wearing hats of course, wander about jabbing pointy sticks into bystanders. The night is ruled by the Hooters, who hoot and set fire to people and things. Hospitality is considered a capital crime. And Newlies, the humanized animals, are treated lower than scum.”
The protagonist in this fey world is Master Lizard-Maker Finn, who runs The Lizard Shoppe in Ulster-East, where he makes mechanical lizards such as the one on his shoulder when he is introduced aboard the ocean vessel Madeleine Rose:
“‘What I thought is,’ the captain said, rubbing a sleeve across his nose, ‘I thought, with the salt air and all, the ah–object on your shoulder there, that’s the thing I mean, might be prone to oxidation, to rust as it’s commonly called.’
‘I’ve been some curious, as others have as well, just what it might be. Now don’t feel we’re trying to intrude . . .’
‘Of course not, sir.’ Finn smiled, taking some pleasure in finding the captain ill at ease. ‘What you speak of is a lizard. I design and craft lizards of every sort. Lizards for work, lizards for play. Lizards for the rich and poor alike. I make them of metal, base and precious too, sometimes with finery, sometimes with gems. The one you see here is made of copper, tin, iron, and bits of brass.’
The captain closed one squinty eye, looked at Finn’s shoulder, then looked away again.
‘And these–lizards, what exactly do they do, Master Finn?’
‘Oh, a great number of things,’ Finn said. ‘When we have some time I’d be pleased to explain. It might be I can make one for you.’” (The Prophecy Machine, p. 3)