A study in sorcery
(Michael Kurland, 1989)

From 1964 to 1979, Randall Garrett wrote a series of detective stories about Lord Darcy, Chief Criminal Investigator for Prince Richard, Duke of Normandy, in an alternate world in which the Anglo-French Empire flourishes in the twentieth century, and magic has emerged as a disciplined form of science. See Too many magicians.

Randall Garrett unfortunately died, and his friend Michael Kurland later wrote two further novels about Lord Darcy, set in Garrett's alternate world with all the familiar details: Ten little wizards (1988) and A study in sorcery (1989).

Anyone who likes Garrett's original stories should definitely try Kurland's: he does a very good job of reanimating Garrett's world and characters, and I've now come to accept these as authentic Lord Darcy novels, although the second is better than the first.

Ten little wizards is set in France, where someone is systematically murdering a series of prominent sorcerers, and there also seems to be a threat to the life of the King himself. The plot of this book seems to me competent rather than inspiring, but the many details worked into the story make for pleasant reading.

A study in sorcery is set mostly in and around Nova Eboracum, a Royal Colony on an island adjoining the continent of New England. An Azteque prince has been found murdered on an altar at the top of a pyramid, and his heart has been removed. Lord Darcy has been sent to find the murderer quickly, to avoid damage to the Empire's relations with the Azteques. This is a good story and quite funny in places; it shows a part of Garrett's world that Garrett didn't live long enough to reveal himself. It also introduces a beautiful young female double-agent, whom we might have met again later if Kurland had written any more in this series.

We're told that the agent in question, Lady Irene Eagleson, is 26 years old; we're also told later that she was born in 1959. As the events of the story take place in March, it's presumably March 1986, though it could be 1985.

According to Garrett's story The spell of war, Lord Darcy was 18 in 1939, so he should be about 64 years old by the time of this story. However, The spell of war wasn't widely available until recently, and Kurland may not have been familiar with it. He claims that Lord Darcy was in the class of 1954 at Oxford University (Magog College); if we assume he was 18 at the time, that would make him about 49 by the time of this story, making the mild flirtation between him and Lady Irene a bit more credible.

Written in April and June 2007