FUNERAL GAMES by Colin Heintze, Local Hero Press, p/b US$12.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
Imagine a society in which the aristocracy have acquired the ability to die and yet still live as ghosts. Imagine this society where a sort of sentient immortality is assured for the ruling clans whose only concern is where they die to ensure they then inhabit forever a location where they can entertain themselves heckling their descendants.
Then imagine being among the lowest orders in such a society facing the prospect of rapacious rulers and landlords who never depart to a better place but keep on incrementing, generation upon generation to your misery. You face the prospect of a real death when all they experience is a bit of a laugh, which has led to institutionalised gamesmanship in a society divided between The Living and The Dead. It is no wonder the poor adopt a bizarre belief based on The Resurrected, a millenarian character who will free them from the landed dead for all eternity.
There is a sardonic humour to this story but it does not run as a rich vein through the plot. It is far, far better than that. It is the plot itself! The world of Prince Syphax is beautifully observed, meticulously described and utterly hilarious in a very darkish sort of way. This tale is like dark beer; roasted malted grain, richly brewed, well-hopped and very, very appetising. Drink deep! The reader is gripped from the beginning and led all the way through an incredibly complex pattern of events that will both amuse and astonish.
Prince Syphax is a scion of Clan Harding, the youngest child of Queen Dallow by the unprepossessing King Heron. Syphax enjoys books – largely historical or romantic works – and drinks too much. He does not philander with the ladies and is wrongly deemed by some as a `gentleman of the baths’. He cherishes his small estate, treats his peasants with respect and befriends ghosts. What he abhors is the way his class wilfully abuses those of lesser status and power.
Then his father King Heron elects to die so that he can live with his ancestors. Only Heron appears to die a true death. He does not come back immediately as a ghost. This predicates a constitutional crisis and it is announced he may have been a changeling switched in the cradle by an opportunistic wet-nurse. Syphax, now deemed illegitimate, suspects something else is going on and begins to discretely investigate.
It transpires that a coup d’etat has been engineered by a claque of dead spirits led by the personality of an ancient dictator. It falls to Syphax to unravel a revolutionary attempt by the dead to take over the world. His apparent cunning, attention to detail and intuition are a delight to follow.
These are but the bare bones of a delightful story that is actually a detailed description of a crazy civilisation that is rooted in ancient necromancy which has been long suppressed. This book is worth the money. Go out and buy it before you die!