Michael Reynier's Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony was published by Tartarus Press in October 2015.
Information about Michael Reynier:
Michael Reynier is British and works in London. He studied as an archaeologist and worked at the British Museum and the University of Leicester before moving into university administration. He is married with two children.
Information about Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony:
These four tales from Montagascony span almost the entire life of investigator extraordinary Professor Summanus Horthólary, from a few days before his birth to within two years of his death. They are among the more unusual of his cases: encounters with flying machines, meteors, witchcraft and giants are not entirely mundane experiences, and they are (unlike many of his related adventures) complete: an ending is indisputably an advantage in the telling of a good tale.
Taken together, these four cases tell us the story of the man himself, of his progression from an impoverished village in eighteenth-century France to his emergence as an international polymath and, perhaps most intriguing of all, of his life-long battle with the Archbishop of Pessane.
A REVIEW OF MICHAEL REYNIER'S HORTHÓLARY: TALES FROM MONTAGASCONY
Michael Reynier's Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony is a fascinating collection of tales about professor Summanus Florant Horthólary and his unusual life. It's an exceptionally intriguing and rewarding reading experience to those who enjoy fine storytelling and extraordinary happenings. It's something different, mesmerising and charmingly uncanny.
Because there's a possibility that Michael Reynier may be an unknown author to many speculative fiction readers, I'll say a few words about him before I begin to analyse and review this book. Michael Reynier has studied archaelogy and is the author of Five Degrees of Latitude (Tartarus Press, 2011) in which he introduced Professor Horthólary to speculative fiction readers. Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony is his second collection of tales about Professor Horthólary.
I was deeply impressed by this book, because it offers readers an intriguing and fantastical glimpse into 18th century France and French culture. Each of the tales reveals something new and interesting about Montagascony, its people and its different places.
Considering the amount of fantastical and strange fiction written during the recent years, it's amazing how fresh Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony feels. It's something different, because it's almost like a testament to an age gone by when life was much simpler and more serene, except for brutal incidents that caused anxiety and distress to people.
When I read this book, I got the impression that the driving force behind it is the author's love for uncanny storytelling, history and science. It was easy for me to see that the author enjoys storytelling and wants to offer his readers something unique and captivating that will linger on their minds. I think that the author's personal experiences about archaelogy have contributed a lot to his storytelling and writing style.
Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony contains four novella-length tales:
- 'The Angel of Pessane'
- 'Dii Nixi'
- 'The Nephilim'
These four tales span almost the entire life of Professor Horthólary, because they reveal what happens to him between his birth and his death. They're unique and well-told stories about encounters with flying machines, meteors, witchraft and giants with a marvellous touch of literary strangeness.
Here's information about the tales and my thoughts about them:
'The Angel of Pessane':
- A fascinatingly told tale about the possible connection between the cloving in two of the statue of Archangel Gabriel, Madame Esclarmonde de Savignan's vision of angel and a brutal murder of Le Dindon.
- The discovery of Le Dindon's body in the Bélibaste Wood causes wonder and fear to local people and investigators, because there's something about the body that seems to be very odd.
- The investigation of Le Dindon's death leads Professor Horthólary to discover something extraordinary.
- An excellent story about a unique and threatening incident of extra-terrestial life on our planet.
- In this story, an object drops from the sky and causes strange happenings.
- This is one of the best and most intriguing tales about contact with an alien lifeform I've ever read, because it's a charmingly strange tale with plenty of style and substance that is often lacking from many similar kind of tales.
- This tale opens with an intriguing preface in which a boy is chased by a beast.
- The Nephilim described in this tale are believed to have belonged to a tribe of ancient men; they were a race of giants.
- This story reveals an interesting chapter from Horthólary's life, because he is a student at the university. He encounters something very strange in this tale as he investigates the Nephilim.
- In this story, Professor Horthólary is called back to his childhood village by the son of Jean Gélis to investigate the death of Clotilde Lefrebre who was a witch.
- This story tells about the later years of Professor Horthólary, because has been a Professor of Anatomy over fifty years. He feels the aches and discomforts of old age.
- Nemestrinus is a brilliantly enigmatic man in this tale.
- This is a fascinating tale about witchcraft, death and old age.
The characterisation is excellent and surprisingly deep and observant. The author makes his many characters come alive by writing fluently about their behaviour, feelings and unique characteristics that define them as individuals.
Professor Horthólary is an interesting protagonist. He was born in the small village of Montagascony and his father was a clockmaker. Although his early education was meagre, it allowed him to gain access to University of Pessane. He became one of the foremost Natural Scientists of his time.
Professor Horthólary is an intelligent man and has a scientific way of exploring and deducting things. He is interested in different phenomena and tries to find explanations for them. By writing about different phases of Professor Horthólary's life, the author reveals his readers how Horthólary became the man he is. Many events have shaped his life over the years and left marks on him.
Bishop Philippe Rapin is an important character in these tales and it's interesting to read about his life and doings. He is described as a man to whom religion is power. He and the professor don't agree on certain things.
Jean Gélis is Professor Horthólary's childhood friend. He is the Lieutenant-Criminal of the Sénéchaussée of Pessane. He and Horthólary experience a few strange things. He partly contributed to Horthólary's education.
The family feud between the Poquelins and the Lienards is handled perfectly. Reading about what happened between these families was interesting, because it was easy to believe that it could really happen. As we all know, there are feuds and disputes between certain families and it's possible that nobody really knows what originally caused the problems between them.
Michael Reynier is a talented author who has his own writing style that separates him from other authors of literary fiction and uncanny fiction. In these stories, curiosity and passion are fascinatingly intertwined with the supernatural, mystery, science, fear and hatred. The historical context gives the author a powerful tool to explore people's lives and behaviour when they experience strange phenomena. He explores people's tendency to believe different things in a fascinating way.
Michael Reynier writes fluently and captivatingly about scientific discoveries and wonders. I can mention as example that it's genuinely interesting to read about the Dreamstone that has certain properties that baffle those who witness what it can do.
The narrative flows easily and the author writes well about giants, witchcraft, flying machines and meteors. In these tales, the supernatural meets the mundane in a powerful way. There's a seductive touch of the weird in these tales that will thrill speculative fiction readers. I think that readers who are familiar with classic weird tales will be thrilled to read about certain scenes, because they're brilliantly strange scenes that will please readers of classic weird fiction.
The juxtaposition of contrasting and differents elements - science, religion and folklore - makes this book highly enjoyable. Intelligent readers will love this juxtaposition, because they can fully immerse themselves into the tales in which religion, the supernatural, the unknown and the mundane meet each other with interesting and thought-provoking results.
These tales contain many details that will mesmerise readers. The author has created his tales so well that you'll find an amazing amount of information in them, but you won't feel burdened by what you read, because you'll be fascinated by the various happenings.
Michael Reynier's worldbuilding is excellent. He vividly brings the beautiful French countryside (Montagascony and the river Varges area) with its towns, villages and forests to life with his lush descriptions of the different places, people and happenings. He beautifully evokes a feeling of an age gone by and forever lost to us by writing fluently about how people lived their lives and how they felt about different things that happened to them. In this era, people lived simpler lives and extraordinary events awed and stunned them in much greater ways than now.
The author's vision of politics and power play among the local residents feels believable and fresh, because he writes about how matters of the church, school, university and law co-exist and clash with each other. The happenings have been written perfectly from different points of view that highlight important elements and reveal what's happening beneath the surface. Differences, disputes and wars between families are all handled exceptionally well. Matters of the church are also handled splendidly, because the author writes about what kind of power the church has over people.
The secretive sect of the Palbanites adds a nice touch of mystery and weirdness to these tales. I was fascinated by the Palbanites and their existence, because the author revealed interesting things about them.
The author writes fluently about prejudice and hatred towards the gypsies in 'The Angel of Pessane'. He demonstrates how easy it is to blame those who are different and don't live their lives like others. Because people don't understand something and may think bad of others, finding a scapegoat for brutal and unexpected happenings is easy.
I enjoyed reading about the strange occurrences at the pool (the Mare de l'Alemone) in 'Dii Nixi'. The gradual change of the pool's colour reminded me of classic weird fiction tales, because people noticed that something sinister and strange was going on. I won't reveal more about what happens to the pool, but I can mention that what resides there will please readers of weird fiction and Lovecraftian tales.
'The Nephilim' demonstrates how well Horthólary examines legends, because he wants to find out if the fossils about the giants are real or forgeries. It's an intriguing tale with an excellent ending. I enjoyed reading about the revelations about the Nephilim.
'Nemestrinus' is one of the best tales about witchcraft, death and old age I've ever read, because it begins well and ends in an excellent way. There's something powerful about this tale that I found compelling. The preface is a perfect example of beautifully written literary prose that touches the reader deeply.
I enjoyed reading Michael Reynier's prose, because it was excellent and nuanced. If you've ever read literary and old-fashioned prose, you'll immediately like his prose. There's an intriguing literary and speculative yet scientific feel to some of his descriptions that makes his prose unique. What makes his prose even more unique is that the almost poetic and lyrical descriptions about different places and people are surprisingly observant, elegant and achingly beautiful.
These tales have a charmingly old-fashioned feel to them, because they take place in the 18th century France. Although some of the happenings are fantastical in nature, people's behaviour, family relationships and beliefs are described in a realistic way and reflect the era in which they live. If you're familiar with history and are aware of how people lived in the 18th century, these tales have a lot to offer to you.
Besides being tales about strange happenings, these tales are also tales about change and growth. They tell how the characters change over the years and how they grow and develop as individuals.
The pictures (maps and notes) are fascinating and useful. It was interesting to look at them.
In my opinion, these tales are slightly reminiscent of Brendan Connell's Dr. Black stories, but differ from them in terms of happenings and storytelling. Despite the differences it's possible to say that Professor Horthólary is almost like a distant cousin of Dr. Black.
Because I enjoyed reading this book, I intend to read the author's previous collection, Five Degrees of Latitude, as soon as possible. I look forward to reading it, because I want to find out what kind of things the author reveals about the professor and his investigations.
Michael Reynier's Horthólary: Tales from Montagascony is a gem among fantastical literature, because it's something a bit different and its literary values are remarkable due to the author's ability to write fascinatingly about Professor Horthólary's life, experiences and investigations. If you have a passion for beautifully written literary speculative fiction and literary fiction, you'll be deeply impressed by this book. It's a literary treasure that awaits to be found by quality-oriented readers who appreciate intricate storytelling.