Title: The Fire Gown
Author: Michael Swanwick
Series: The Mongolian Wizard
Published: tor.com 2012
Genre: Fantasy, gas light fantasy, alternative history, mystery
Length: 4743 words, short story
Reading time: 24 min
I read this as part of my reading challenge: 25 short stories in 25 days.
This is the second story set in a the world that was started with the story: The Mongolian Wizard, which I read around Christmas last year. I remember thinking when I read the first story that what it was a great shame that there was not a novel set in this universe, so I was very happy when I found out that Swanwick had written more stories in it.
This very much reads as the start of a novel, I remember thinking the same thing about the first story about the Mongolian Wizard and I think the universe could indeed easily support a full novel, Swanwick has however chosen to write a series of short stories instead, which also works.
The setting is the Concert of Europe years of the mid 1800s which is a really interesting period in European history. It is set in alternative world where the “Mongolians” are a much greater threat then they turned out to be in the real world. There is also magic and some magical creatures like Franz-Karl Ritter’s great wolf whom he is magically linked to.
This is very much Ritter’s story more than it is Sir Tobias Gracchus Willoughby-Quirke’s story (what a name by the way) and it is a murder mystery.
I did not feel the same impact as the first one or the same sense of wonder, possibly because my expectations was much higher, I had looked forward to reading more set in this universe. Most other short stories I read I read totally cold, not this one.
In the first story the world building gave me a strong sense of wonder. Because it is about a year since I read the first story, the characters felt a bit thin because the plot took up so much of the story. I think I would have liked a bit more story to get a better feel for Ritter. Though the story was extremely short it gave the impression of a very deep back story, which I also loved in the first story, with deep political games and much more going on than what were are told. It is impressive writing to sketch something with so few words and still give the reader enough to fill out all the gaps.
The armies of the Mongolian Wizard had just crossed into Poland when Sir Tobias Gracchus Willoughby-Quirke arrived at Buckingham, with attaché and wolf in tow.
This is really all that are set of the setting, all we as the reader know. Of course something was set of it in the first story, but I immediately conjure up images of immense armies coming out of the Russian sets taking over Poland and marching on Prague.
However I thought the final scene was pretty brilliant. It was rather touching and pretty powerful.
I have to comment on Gregory Manchess‘s amazing illustrations. I don’t think I would have read any of these stories without them because they are really beautiful and so intriguing. They suck me in and paint a whole world in front of my eyes.
The story feels more as a sketch than a complete story and that is why I “only” give it 3.5 stars. I do want to go back and read the first one again and to read the other 3 stories.