The Choir Boats, published by Chizine Publications, is volume one in a new fantasy series Longing For Yount. In the pre-publication material it is described as “dark fantasy”, but if that is the case volume one does not reveal the series in its true colours because The Choir Boats comes across as a richly embroidered brocade of many colours amongst which black is not necessarily pre-eminent.
Rabuzzi weaves his novel around the concept of Yount, a mysterious continent sundered from the rest of the World millennia ago in “the Great Confluxion” and now located in an alternative reality somehow still linked to ours physically in a few far-flung locations (including the Bermuda Triangle) and metaphysically, in terms of the myths and legends of our World and its ultimate fate. Against a back cloth of Georgian Britain during the Napoleonic War–and specifically a slightly off-kilter City of London in which every other day seems to see the celebration of some obscure saint–literary creations from the pens of Jane Austen and Dickens, amongst others, are given walk-on parts as genuine characters, and members of mercantile family the McDoons discover that both their past and their future is mysteriously linked to Yount and its population’s attempts to restore the lands to their former place in the World. Our family of heroes embarks on a quest, starting with a sea journey across half the globe to Yount itself, to free Yount from its enforced exile through the use of a powerful key wielded by one of their number.
Threaded throughout the tale are extensive literary and historical references, music, myth and folklore, mathematical theories and comparative religion. There are strong and commendable themes of feminism, anti-racism and anti-slavery and obvious feline appreciation. When combined with colourful locations in Britain, India, South Africa, America, the South Seas and Yount itself, they make for a very rich brocade indeed, well suited to the brightly-coloured waistcoats sported throughout by one of our merchant heroes. If much of this novel about the interconnectedness of things is woven from fine and elegant silks, there are also, however, too many threads of rough homespun and this makes for an uneven read.
Rabuzzi clearly knows his Georgian England but at times he allows himself to cram in too much ostentatious background detail to the detriment of the book’s style. In particular, the obsession with regional dialects of the period started to grate with me. There is some clunky writing too: “undulating whiskers” in relation to a domestic cat, for example, and some glaring anachronisms, like a comparison to a fifty pence coin within the setting of Georgian London, which should have been tackled during the editing process. For me, the book’s stylistic deficiencies detracted from the rollicking rainbow hued read it could have been and I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Having said that I have been known to pick holes in the writing of David Eddings and I confess that I have never warmed to the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, so judge my comments accordingly. I am sure that many readers will be eagerly awaiting volume two of the series, A Tax From Heaven, which should pull together a number of key characters and themes from The Choir Boats and develop the story of Yount further.