Ars Memoriae

21 March 2010

Beth Bernobich’s exciting fantasy novella Ars Memoriae has been going on a blog tour, and turned up in Hampshire courtesy of Old Kitty’s blog. Yum.

Ars Memoriae, a chapbook from the independent UK publishers PS, is set in an alternate 19th century where the overstretched empire of Eireann is racking its brains to cope with the Anglian nationalist problem, rather than the other way around. Eireann, in this book, is mainly a framing device to send a traveller into the Balkans, where Austria is rubbing up against Serbian nationalist ambitions. Much of the action takes place in Montenegro, where police commander Adrian Dee must track down an agent who holds the key to a nefarious Austrian-Anglian scheme…

A light touch of steampunk ends up propelling the plot, but otherwise hovers over Bernobich’s continent like a patient balloon, waiting for the characters to step in. The Austrian/Serbian/Montenegrin politics also hang together well. (Many readers might not care, but I stubbornly do.) We don’t hear much about internal structures in Austria, but the setup in Montenegro, with opposing factions inclining towards Austria or Serbia, echoes real-life Montenegrin political struggles of the time, and Bernobich has found a nicely contemporary solution for naming the local language.

PS may be doing the book a disservice by selling it as ‘an alternate Earth of Ruritanian atmosphere’. (That’s not just because of its Balkan setting, I hope.) Ars Memoriae writes itself into the tradition of Edwardian spy stories, with officers of the law racing to catch anarchists before they can let off their infernal devices. Dee’s personal traumas, on the other hand, are relentlessly of our age: he’s tormented by hallucinations of his investigation into a murder that could never have taken place, and he approaches Eireann’s courtiers through an understated fug of modernist depression.

The trouble is, there’s just not enough of it. In general, I’m left wanting to know much more about the continent, more hints about how it turned out that way, more texture, more of a sense of how this Europe’s power relates to the rest of the world… and in particular, Dee’s memories of the murder don’t seem deep enough. We see Dee talking to a psychiatrist (if I can use that word – how far has this world come in terms of theories of the mind?) in the first chapter and visiting a location associated with the memory, but it’s still not rich enough for the impact it’s all meant to have had on him. We get no more than hints at the connection between his hallucinations and a series of strange physics experiments in Eireann, meaning that the novella’s not quite self-contained…

…but, according to the author’s website, there will be a forthcoming novel tying together Ars Memoriae and her
other Eireann stories. So that’s all right.


Apparently I’m also supposed to post a photo of the book in its temporary home. So here it is, in the least cluttered place in the house:

Ars Memoriae in situ

And now for housekeeping: if you want to review the book, let me know a contact email and I’ll arrange to post it on. Alternatively, I’ll send it back up the chain to Old Kitty if there are no takers here…


10 Responses to “Ars Memoriae”

  1. […] structures in Austria , but the setup in Montenegro, with opposing factions … Excerpt from: Ars Memoriae Β« Hampshire Flyer: Alex Fleetwood's Blog Share and […]

  2. Old Kitty Says:


    OMG that was so, so, so quick!! I’m all red faced and a little sheepish that I took so long reading it and getting to grips with it!!


    This is a fantastic review!!!!! The third paragraph for me is just sublime – really lovely!

    And the pic. Between a cat and a fish. Brilliant!

    Take care

  3. Well I bumped it up the things-to-read pile after I had a bit of a flick through! I suppose short books do have some advantages πŸ™‚

  4. Beth Bernobich Says:

    Hi! Thanks for reading and reviewing my novella. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I love your photo. In case you don’t get any takers, please send the book back to me. (Email me for my address if that ends up being the case.)

  5. Hi Beth – thank you so much for visiting! I was so glad to see on your site that the story was going to be developing further…

    Will do re: the book if necessary πŸ™‚

  6. B. Miller Says:

    That sounds like a GREAT read. Thanks for the review! Also, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting! I really appreciate it.

  7. Mel Says:

    how does one get in the queue to review a copy?

  8. Commit to reviewing it within a reasonable time and posting it on πŸ™‚ If you want it, can I email you at the address that came in with your comment?

  9. Mel Says:

    please do!

  10. Hi, again. This is more for Mel than Alex…

    As you might know, I’m keeping track of reviews, so I can link to them from my blog. My goal is to keep the momentum of this novella review tour going, so please let me know when you plan to read and review it. A link to your blog would be nice, too. Thanks.

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