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Ars Memoriae
Beth Bernobich
PS Publishing, 80 pages

Ars Memoriae
Beth Bernobich
Beth Bernobich is a writer, reader, mother, geek, and struggling student of the martial arts. She writes science fiction, fantasy, and erotica, sometimes all in the same story.

Beth Bernobich Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Beth Bernobich's first book, Ars Memoriae, is a novella set in the alternative world she has already chronicled in the stories "A Flight of Numbers Fantastique Strange" and "The Golden Octopus." Set against a world in which Irish Queen Áine Lasairíona Devereaux rules over a fractious England, the story concerns Commander Adrian Dee, who is sent on a mission to Montenegro to seek out Anglian activists.

The majority of the story deals with Dee's mission as he crosses Europe and must not only find the cell of Anglians in Montenegro, but must also figure out who the traitor is among Queen Áine's court. Adding to his mission is the difficulty he is having with a set of false memories which seem as real to him as anything he is currently doing, even as he knows they are false.

At a shorter length, Ars Memoriae would have fallen into the problem of too many mysteries. At novella length, however, Bernobich is able to provide a reasonable number of suspects and red herrings as Dee travels to Montenegro. Not everything that happens to him must relate to his mission, and Bernobich is also able to focus some of her attention on Dee's unspoken relationship with Queen Áine.

Dee's name and the general atmosphere of the stories evoke the Elizabethan period, but Ars Memoriae is set in the modern world and rather being portrayed as an alchemist, Adrian Dee is more a cross between James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, although dependent on neither of those archetypes. Instead, Dee can competently act the spy and detective while dealing with his own secrets, in this case the apparent red herring of his misplaced memories. Bernobich allows herself to retrieve tossed off incidents and characters as the story requires so the reader can never be sure just how important or innocuous an event is.

The world depicted in Ars Memoriae is gritty, providing details where they are needed, but also leaving the areas not visited by Dee in an amorphous state. Bernobich carefully focuses her attention on what the reader needs to know within the parameters of the story and mystery she is telling, potentially leaving additional details for subsequent works set in the same world.

Despite being part of an on-going cycle of stories, Ars Memoriae does not require familiarity with the earlier-penned works for the reader to either enjoy, or understand the world through which Dee moves. For all her ability to bring in events and characters that aren't germane to the overall plot, Bernobich manages to stay focused on her own story instead of presenting a sort of guided tour of the world she has created.

Ars Memoriae delivers a satisfying mystery in a complex and well-thought out world. Bernobich provides enough hints about this culture to leave the reader wanting to learn more about it while neatly tying up the mystery at the story's core. Relationships, and characters, change, providing fodder for further exploration of both the world and the characters Bernobich has introduced.

Copyright © 2009 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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