Where Arts Rule the World
Set in a parallel world and precisely in the isle of Mnemosyne, 2,000 years after the birth of the Divine Caesar, the three fictional pieces assembled in The Wayward Muse reveal Brian Stablefordís personal muse as one able to inspire a type of narrative both fresh and mature, fit to satisfy the most sophisticated reader.
In "The Secret Exhibition" Claudius Jaseph, a young, talented painter, keeps secretly hidden the portraits of three beautiful ladies. Their souls and erotic powers are somehow embedded in their pictures even after all of them in turn have taken their own lives. An artistic competition with the enigmatic, older master painter, Alex Rathenius, and a rivalry for winning the love of the younger sister of one of the unfortunate ladies will eventually lead to the disclosure of the true nature of the uncanny portraits.
Like the above story the subsequent tale, "The Incubus of the Rose", has previously appeared in an earlier version in Weird Tales. The piece is a clever representation of the power of music as an art capable of summoning creatures from beyond. This time Rathenius appears to be the author of an ingenuous scheme to help the composer Conrad Othman to conquer the physical love of the lesbian harpist Dorothea. Well constructed and quite entertaining, the story has the levity of a musical Scherzo.
Stablefordís writing style is delightfully unfashionable, classical in its way, now blunt, now reticent. The implications of his stories are deep and thought provoking, making his fiction unsuitable for anyone looking for mere entertainment or superficial frissons.
The long novella, "The Arms of Morpheus", original to this collection, is a much more complex and ambitious work featuring both Rathenius and his lady friend, the poet Hecate Rain, other inhabitants of Mnemosyne and a bunch of foreign characters. The piece is a medley of different motives such as the power of dreams and, again, the secret force of art, blended into the general framework of a mystery where several murders take place.
Once more, Stablefordís narrative is impeccable, his writing style learned and steady. The basic plot, however, is rather complicated and somehow lacks in plausibility. Moreover, the story appears too diluted, spread as it is across too many pages, and strained, here and there, with too much talking. A more synthetic rendering of the plot would have made more convincing the already slightly improbable chain of events.
All in all, however, the world created by Stableford is original and extremely intriguing, deserving to be further developed in new, future instalments which, hopefully, will soon take shape.