The Tyrant’s Nephew by Sophie Masson

A guild of Carpet-Enchantresses, a Jinn Cat born of smokeless flame, Suloowa (murderous mermaids), werewolf clans, Shadow Walkers… what more do we need? This is the fantasy I love, set in exotic magic-realist landscapes where cars and gasmasks are interspersed with flying rugs and rituals to separate souls from bodies. Yay! There is even a gold crystal ball with an opal sphere within, like an eyeball, set on a stand, glittering and glowing, emitting a sinister hum: invidious spyware. Yes, my kind of book.

I enjoy how Sophie Masson lavishes us with verbs, especially ones that start with the letter Q, like ‘quailing’ or ‘quell’.

“The Tyrant’s Nephew” has a distinctly middle-eastern setting and flavour, presented through allegory. Yet it carries universal resonance. After all, such themes as bullying, courage, corruption, disguise, trust, betrayal, family secrets, vanity, the rise and fall of empires, or coming of age, pertain to any time or place. This book entered my life in mid 2015 at the NSW Writers Centre in Sydney, where Sophie launched another magical novel “Hunter’s Moon”, which I’ve reviewed at this site.

We were at the second annual conference of The Australian Fairy Tale Society. It was the first time I had met Sophie. By fairy trade, I received signed copies of “The Tyrant’s Nephew” and “Snow, Fire, Sword” (another from The Chronicles of El Jisal, which also includes “The Curse of Zohreh” and “The Maharajah’s Ghost”).

As a cat-lover, how could I resist the feline guide, jinn-cat Ketta? To digress: one of our cats is named Djinn (alternately Genie, or Jinn-Jinnie). When she first began frequenting our garden, I’d read about black cats sometimes being genies in disguise, and how a surefire test was to ask, “Are you a jinn?” Our little ebony visitor responded as if I’d uttered an incantation. Instant bonding! Granted, the indefatigable jinn-cat in “The Tyrant’s Nephew” is not black but white, like our other rescued cat Dulcinea. Ketta easily became my favourite character.

This novelist has an uncanny ability to shed light on the true nature of vampires. Not blood-suckers in the literal sense (done to death, so to speak) but rather, a metaphor for insatiable, narcissistic, manipulative megalomaniacs who walk among us, sucking life out of us in their lust for money, power and influence, where even the most altruistic ploys end up revolving around the vampire’s volatile ego that whips people into a frenzy as they try to keep pace with its rapidly shifting priorities, jump to its erratic tunes, accurately interpret its impatiently splattered directives, or feed its insatiable thirst for accolades. Vampires stalk any aspect of society, from the corporate world to the public service, and are most dangerous when they sense we’ve seen through them. So it behooves us to recognise them before they suck our energy dry; extract ourselves from their influence; at least develop psychic filters and ploys of avoidance, to preserve ourselves from their parasitical slurping, without incurring resentment or vindictive wrath. If that sounds like anyone you know, it’s because narcissists, megalomaniacs and sociopaths are options on the platter of human nature. Turning to psychology may garner strategies for coping, but I suggest that reading fine literature, from any culture, genre or century, written by wise people who’ve distilled their observations into nutritious mental nourishment, is by far the best antidote.