The Castrato of St. Petersburg, by Stephan Clarke, is another in the Mount Abraxas series of booklets The Old Ways Remain. If the quality and tone of the other books in this series continue as they have with this book and The Tome of Ravass Bhavatan, we might have here a fine, fine series from Mount Abraxas, yet again.
This novella traces the somewhat excrutiating, but at times triumphant history of Norcinelli, a castrato from rural Italy who finds his way, eventually, into the court of the Tsar. And by "triumphant," I mean triumphant in a banal way that celebrates small victories, or the avoidance of horrid tragedy. That's not to say that Norcinelli avoids all tragedy, least of all the circumstance which led to his "operation" at the very beginning. There is a modicum of hope in every forlorn circumstance, always driven by his delcaration "I will sing for the tsar".
The writing in this volume is not flowery, and I think this might have something to do with being told in the first person, which lends itself to a more conversational tone. I've recently read some older murder mystery stories where the first person perspective it sold with purple-prose, and it comes off as disingenuous. Clarke's prose here is conversational, but at times "jerky" with little oddities. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's noticable. Or maybe I'm just overly sensitive given my recent readings. This doesn't take away from the overall telling of the story, it just introduces some "hiccups" here and there, nothing jarring enough to throw one out of the tale.
The tone here is a strange one. Some might incorrectly consider this a work of "weird" fiction, but there are no supernatural elements and no breach of reality. Still, the nature of the story, that of a young child wiht very strong religious propensities who must negotiate the disappointments of learning that humans are humans, and sometimes despicably so, along with the rarefied environments in which these different experiences are set, make for a strange feel. The theme of loss and longing intensify this feeling, making for a contrast between ethereality and grit that gives a dream-like quality.
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