Sean Stewart,
Resurrection Man
(Ace, 1995)

The title Resurrection Man brings to mind images of the "resurrection men" of the Victorian era, open graves, and carts loaded with ghastly cargo, so it seems appropriate that Sean Stewart's novel opens with the protagonist, Dante Ratkay, about to perform an autopsy. The difference between Dante and anyone else is that Dante's subject is his own corpse.

In Stewart's alternate world, magic has been creeping back since around the end of World War II, growing stronger and stronger. People with extraordinary psychic abilities are known as "angels," and Dante is one of those who has some angel in him. He has clamped down on his angel abilities, but manages to initiate manifestations of it in spite of himself.

He has little choice, really, considering his family. His foster brother, Jet, is strange and brooding; something happened to him when he was an infant, and he wants to know what it was. Dante's sister, Sarah, also has her own grief and ghosts to bear. Aunt Sophie, his father's sister, pores over her fortune-telling coins and never speaks of her past. Much seems to be hidden from each other, but there is an undercurrent of magic throughout the family.

Dante interprets the corpse as a harbinger of his own death, and the autopsy of himself is intended to reveal the cause of death. He discovers a growth within himself, and knowing that he is doomed, sets out to find the answers to long unanswered questions about his family, most particularly about Jet, Aunt Sophie and himself. He enlists a long-time friend, architect Laura Chen, to help him find the answers he seeks, although her help is not quite what any of them expect. What he discovers is that, when applied to him, the phrase "resurrection man" has a special and specific meaning.

Parallel to and sometimes intertwined in Dante's search is Jet's search for the truth about his birth, his missing father, and the butterfly mark that appeared on his cheek in infancy, causing his mother to reject him. Stewart uses Jet's descriptions of his photographs to reveal not only Jet but those around him.

Stewart's novel portrays an intense and moody protagonist against an equally intense and moody setting. His descriptions are vivid and powerful, and the story, while magical and fantastical on the surface is resonant with the universal relationships between parents and children, particularly fathers and sons. His characters are well-rounded and realistic, and they are people about whom the reader cares.

Readers who like authors such as Charles de Lint, Terri Windling and Lisa Goldstein should take a serious look at Sean Stewart's book -- they won't be sorry.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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