Matthew Hughes brings a much-needed spark of ingenuity to alternative reality fiction. Review by Violet Kane

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Black Brillion isn't Hughes's first novel of his Old Earth world, though it was the first I read and there is no reason why discerning ARWZ readers should not do the same. On nearly every front, Black Brillion is a welcome change of pace.

Baro Harkless is an upstanding citizen and detective in Old Earth, intent on living up to the legacy his father created in the same profession. He's an ethical, by-the-book sort of fellow, so when his superiors charge him with investigating notorious criminal, Horselan Gebbling, Harkless is eager for the chance to prove himself as a worthy namesake to his late father. However, when he is assigned for a partner Luff Imbry—a former criminal of nearly as infamous proportions—Harkless is indignant. The two personalities clash as they head off on their mission, and thankfully in a witty and character-specific way, and not in a Friday night action flick way, as one might expect from the above description. Indeed this novel brings uniqueness to the storytelling even when it is reminiscent of old standards from the science fiction, fantasy and detective genres. Harkless and Imbry, despite their uneasiness, set off for Gebbling's airship under false identities to investigate his doings—a scheme, they suspect, to exploit people suffering from a rare disease called the lassitude, by offering the fabled black brillion—a member of a family of otherwise common minerals—as the miraculous cure. Once on the ship, their investigation does not go as planned, and Harkless discovers that he has an uncanny talent for more than just detective work.

In many ways, Black Brillion is a classic detective story, but Hughes manages to infuse it with a true character conflict (Harkless's internal professional conflicts) as well as an under-the-surface fantasy world and science fiction elements both in the milieu and in the climactic conclusion to the detective conflict. Hughes's ability to weave all of these elements together in a united whole, while at the same time, making it all appear simple by writing in a straightforward prose style. It is all the more amazing a feat when you consider that he pulls off this sleight of hand in around 200 pages. Hughes proves that brevity is undervalued in modern science fiction and fantasy by writing such a complex narrative in what is a comparatively small space—bolstering the argument that there is excessive verbiage in many offerings of these genres. In a novel that combines adventure, wit and Jungian theory, Hughes showcases both his talent and the creative possibilities that too many authors leave untapped.

This novel shows what is new and worthwhile among the current publications in alternative reality genres, and I would recommend it to any reader who appreciates a unique perspective.

Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.

Alternative Reality Web Zine: ISSN# 1559-3037

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