“Turn, you stern merchants of forgetfulness,
you mincing forgetters of consequence, turn!
Tend to your sad taxonomy, your numb ontology,
your proud happenstance of secular wheels!”
—The Mirror Thief
Martin Seay’s big, intricate debut novel, The Mirror Thief, came out earlier this year to much anticipation (at least in the insular world of people who read Publishers Weekly). Its prose is formed with the same exquisite craftsmanship with which the mirrors of its title are wrought by expert craftsmen in 16th-century Venice. And it contains some stirring flights of philosophy on the nature of self-knowledge. But for all its beauty, I was disappointed. The plot was so baroque (it actually had three plots, each involving conspiracies, secrets, and casts of characters too giant to easily track) that the machinations felt creaky and labored. I felt little suspense; reading it was more like watching the intricate gears of a pointless clock. At points I wished that the tricked-out plot weren’t necessary at all, that I could have just spent time with the promising main characters and their carefully fleshed-out worlds. Still, you have to admire a writer who can juggle multiple mysteries and conspiracies across five centuries, and connect a Renaissance smuggler to a Beat poet. And the novel is worth reading for its prose, at least. I will certainly be reading Seay’s next novel.