Stephen M. Sanders' Passe-Partout was published in April 2019.
About Stephen M. Sanders:
Stephen M. Sanders was born in the South Plains of Texas where he now lives with his wife and son. He has published several poems, appearing in such publications as the Pacifica Review and di-vêrsé-city, the Austin International Poetry Festival anthology. He was a public school teacher for nineteen years and now teaches at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. Passe-Partout is his first novel.
Passe-Partout is a story of two lives - two narratives centuries apart, both tasked with unraveling the mystery of a hidden magic known as “Writing” and the corruption its practice brings to all who live. Paul Fischer is driven to decipher the corruption of a strange abandoned address in the heart of a metropolis, and the possible cause of his father’s death. Cyprus, a second man separated by untold generations in the past, arrives at the cabin of his mentor Amos, only to find two graves: that of Amos; and one of an unknown woman. Seeking to understand their fate, Cyprus discovers and uses “Writing” to unlock the door between realities. Taking place in realities not our own, the two men discover the horrors binding their fates together with creatures from a multitude of Hells conjured to silence them.
REVIEW: PASSE-PARTOUT BY STEPHEN M. SANDERS
Stephen M. Sanders' Passe-Partout is an intriguing debut novel. It combines element of fantasy, urban fantasy and literary fiction in an effective way and captivates the reader with its gradually unfolding story. It's a tale about creation, destruction, life, death, love, fate and faith with a touch of horror and weirdness to it.
I was positively surprised by this novel, because Stephen M. Sanders has come up with a story that is dark, ambitious and unpredictable. The author takes risks with his story and it pays off for him, because the story is something different and original.
I think it's possible that Passe-Partout won't appeal to everybody, because it's more demanding (and more intricate) than other new fantasy novels, but it will appeal to those who enjoy original stories. This novel is not your typical fantasy fiction, but something altogether different, which I consider to be a good thing, because I love novels and stories that differ from the norm.
Describing the story with a few words is a bit difficult due to its complex nature, but basically Passe-Partout is a novel about two lives - two narratives - centuries apart, because it tells of Paul Fischer and Cyprus who live at different times. Paul lives in the modern day world and Cyprus lives at an undefined time in the past when the world was different.
The story begins with Paul Fischer. Paul is a man who lives with father. His life takes a turn for the worse when he finds out that his employer has tried to kill himself. He also witnesses how his father kills himself without any kind of reason. He is left wondering why his father killed himself, because it doesn't make sense to him. A woman called Jamey begins to help Paul and looks after him... The author also tells about Amos who lives in the past many years before Paul. Amos has a forge, the great Machine, which allows him to live by trading its creations for food and wood. A bit later, Cyprus is introduced to the reader. He is a man who arrives at the cabin of his mentor, Amos, and finds two graves there. Amos lies in one of the graves and an unknown woman lies in the other grave...
The unfolding story is dark and detailed and has a strong sense of mystery to it, because Paul and Cyprus discover something terrifying that binds their fates together. The author doesn't reveal everything at once, but gradually tells of what is going on and how everything is connected to each other. Although everything may seem a bit strange at first and things don't seem to make much sense, the author rewards the careful and patient reader with fascinating and unsettling revelations.
The interludes are fascinatingly philosophical, spiritual and thought-provoking. They disrupt the story for a while, but they work well and add an interesting flavour to the novel.
One of the most compelling things about the story is that the author writes about two different worlds. There are clear differences between the modern day world and the ancient world, because the ancient world feels primitive and a bit raw while the modern day world is much more familar to us. What happens in both worlds is handled in a gripping way, because the events emphasise the story's values and reflect its themes.
I was pleasantly surprised by the author's writing style. The two narratives intertwine in a mesmerising and mysterious way and the events are intriguingly shadowed by darkness and evil. There are a few moments in the story where a more precise and strict form of writing would've been beneficial to the storytelling and the overall flow of the story, but it's easy to overlook these minor things.
It's nice that the author writes effortlessly about human emotions and feelings, because it adds depth and thought-provoking moments to the story. I was fascinated by how Amos, Cyprus, Paul and Jamey felt about other people and how their lives were connected. The author explores their lives and feelings in an interesting way.
One of the most intriguing things about this novel is that the author writes about the "Writing", which is a mysterious form of magic that allows its user to unlock the door between realities. This magic is not safe, because its practice brings corruption to all who live. The author manages to keep this magic sufficiently mysterious, which adds to the atmosphere and lures the reader deeper into the story.
The author has infused the story with bleak and subtly terrifying elements. I found these horror elements fascinating and unsettling, because they are difficult to forget. For example, the scene in which Paul's father kills himself is bleak and harrowing and will stay with the reader.
This novel has a few LGBT elements, which are handled surprisingly well by the author. They're not the main focus of the story, but they are an important part of it. It was nice to see LGBT characters, because not many authors include them in their stories.
I give this novel four out of five stars, because it's captivatingly different, but has a few rough spots in which the story could've flown a bit better and without hindrance. Despite these rough spots, the story is immersive and I found myself enjoying it.
Stephen M. Sanders' Passe-Partout is a debut speculative fiction novel that will captivate and surprise the reader with its dual narrative and harrowing atmosphere. If you want to read something different and extraordinary, you should consider taking a look at this novel, because it's not your normal kind of fantasy fiction. It's not an easy or light read, but it is rewarding and captivating.