Book review: The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky
The Seventh Perfection - Daniel Polansky
You can always depend on Daniel Polansky to find a unique and unusual way to tell a story. Even though it's one of his short fantasy works (such things do exist, rare though they might be), it takes a little while before you can build up any kind of picture of the world of The Seventh Perfection. In a way the bigger picture is something that Manet - the main character of this short fantasy novella - is trying to discover, because she has an object in her possession that could change the whole history of the place.
I say the main character, but we don't actually hear anything from Manet herself, as the whole story is constructed of a series of monologues from people she comes into contact with, each of them providing a one-sided view that perhaps adds up to a multi-faceted vision of a strange world. Although some are rather vague in what appear to be responses to her queries, unwilling to talk about or professing ignorance about the locket she has in her possession, we soon determine that Manet is an Amanuensis, a Slave Recorder, one of the God-King Ba'l Melqart's slaves, a graduate of the Seven Perfections from the White Isle. Quite what all that means you're going to have to keep reading to find out.
Initially it seems like each colourful character that Manet comes into contact with just passes her on to someone else who they think might be better informed and have answers to the clearly difficult questions she poses. It's not just that they are reluctant to discuss who the person is in the fading hologram portrait in the locket but it's where the locket might have come from that is a contentious issue. But as she goes deeper into some dubious places and meets some dubious characters, parting with money and body parts, she does find the information she is looking for, information that perhaps it might have been better not knowing.
For sure it's all very confusing at first, in the writing style just as much as in grasping exactly what is going on. With no descriptions, just monologues where you only hear one side of the conversation, it creates a strange distanced perspective with what appears to be a blank space at the centre in Manet. That of course is intentional to an extent, considering the context, but to compensate you have all the usual eccentric and colourful variety of characters and voices that Polansky does so well, each section short and eventful enough to just keep you going that little bit further (again evidently a consciously intended technique).
Although he is renowned for his longer series Low Town and The Empty Throne, what is remarkable about Polansky is how he can create fully fledged fantasy worlds in his shorter fiction, and always make them strikingly original. Whether that's in something like the short anthromorphic fantasy adventure The Builders or in the interconnected New York urban fantasy stories in A City Dreaming (which contained a fully realised three-volume fantasy epic 'The Coming of the Four' condensed down into 12 pages), it's always highly imaginative and done with incredible wit and style. The Seventh Perfection is no exception.