<B>Liz Williams' daring brew</B>British writer Liz Williams' first novel, <I>The Ghost Sister</I>, was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for science fiction; this, her third effort, should assist her in climbing up the ladder to bestsellerdom.
Two strands of story intertwine in unexpected ways in <B>The Poison Master</B>. Williams mixes alternate history, science fiction and gothic romance to produce an entertaining supposition on what might have been had the principles of 16th century alchemy been followed through to produce interplanetary travel.
Alivet Dee is an alchemist on the planet Latent Emanation, where humans are the slaves of the Lords of Night. Alivet lives in Levanah, but cannot afford the delights the city offers, since she is saving to buy ("unbond") her sister back from the Lords of Night. She is taken aback, one night, when on a perfectly standard job introducing an ex-nun to drugs all drugs being legal on Latent Emanation the woman has a bad reaction and dies. Knowing that justice at the hands of the Lords of Night is at best arbitrary, Alivet flees and runs into the mysterious Poison Master, an off-worlder who appears to have been following her. The Poison Master offers her the means of escape and Alivet, in fear for her life, decides to join him.
Meanwhile, 16th century English alchemist John Dee is experimenting with mechanical beasts and spending his time traveling between European courts for two reasons: to save his skin from narrow-minded religious leaders and to find new patrons for his work. Dee is convinced he has found a way to travel to a new world and, like the pilgrims setting out for what will be the USA, wants to build a free and peaceful society.
Blending genres can annoy readers who know what they want romance or science fiction, alternate history or fantasy but it also gives writers the alchemical opportunity to fuse ideas and modes of expression and see what new things they can create. Although the way the two story strands are brought together in <B>The Poison Master</B> is slightly unsatisfying, the chances Williams has taken here and her confident handling of a wide range of material promises much for her future novels. <I>Gavin J. Grant has just moved to an old farmhouse in western Massachusetts, which he expects to be renovating for the foreseeable future.</I>