Measured Extravagance

08 May 2003 - 12:49 a.m.

It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm quite content with the Lord Peter Wimsey fix I got tonight via Mercedes Lackey's The Serpent's Shadow, which had been recommended to me eons ago on one of the Sayers lists. I think what Lackey did with the character was inspired, on several levels:

(1) He's a supporting actor, not the lead (though, as Lackey herself has acknowledged, he pretty much steals every scene he's in, at least for rabid Wimseyphiles like myself). As with his cameo in Laurie R. King's A Letter to Mary, I found it inordinately entertaining to watch him through the eyes of intelligent protagonists - while feeling grateful that the story was enough about said protagonists that I wasn't reading wannabe-Sayers.

(2) The allusions to the Wimsey-Denver novels abound, including direct paraphrases from Sayers ("She stopped just long enough in her office for a stamp . . . No one, having put a stamp to a letter, has ever been known to change his mind about sending it, she thought wryly"), but there remains no question that this is an entirely separate universe, in part because of the timeline (with the story set in 1909, Lord Peter Almsley is older than Lord Peter Wimsey would have been) and mostly because Lackey makes no other effort to reconcile her story to canonical Sayers (for instance, there's no Watsonian attempt to insinuate that this universe co-exists with the one Sayers crafted but that its mentions had been suppressed by Sayers' publishers due to its fantastical elements).

In short, I didn't feel pushed by the author to accept Almsley as Wimsey - in fact, there's enough deliberate divergence of detail (such as Almsley's being tall and a product of Magdalen) that there's no point trying to make him co-habit the same body and milieu as Sayers' Wimsey. But oh, I am charmed and delighted - there's enough Wimsey to his personality and pedigree and physical features to enjoy Almsley both as an extended allusion and as a critical contributor to the action of the novel.

I'm not sure if or how well the novel holds up as a stand-alone fantasy, but I fancy it might go over well with a subset of Amelia Peabody fans - the period and the style of characterization strike me as rather similar (there is a mention of Egyptian forgeries, but it's not much for the pyramid-heads. Plenty of suffragettes, though, and the heroine' s a surgeon who prefers whisky and soda to ratafia). At any rate, it answered a craving tonight, and the letters modeled after the ones in Busman's Honeymoon are hilarious.

Almost one year ago, I quoted a renowned biologist: "Oh, go out and jog and stay healthy, because you'll publish more if you're alive."

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