Miriam waits in the wings of the theater night after night, anxiously inhaling the aura of the woman for whom she is an understudy.
She is, in theater parlance, a “standby” awaiting the instant in which she must assume the lead role in a sweeping, allegorical dance production that pays tribute to a curious retelling of the Atlantean legend, intertwined with elements of Camelot and Tibetan Buddhism.
For if Susan, the production’s lead dancer, should fall victim to one of her cancer-induced coughing fits and be unable to proceed, Miriam will have her big chance to be a star — adored by many in the audience, but reviled by a few hecklers who shout hate-based epithets about the production’s racial and ethnic bias.
It’s Andrew Lloyd Webber on steroids as performers in the troupe draw and send powerful aura-based energies throughout the venue, aided by the production’s resident hypnotist — a mysterious yet powerful man they call Dune. He is married to Susan; yet he seems more than a little attracted to Miriam. Or is that just all in Miriam’s very active imagination?
Indeed, Miriam’s inner dialogues drive much of the opening action in this remarkable sequel to the author’s award-winning book Glossolalia. In that groundbreaking novel, set in a not-so-distant future, insidious agents of the Nevermind control thought worldwide and work within shadowy conspiracies and large corporations to influence international affairs.
In this book, a cult has grown up around elements of the Atlantis story, and society has become divided — often violently — depending upon one’s beliefs. You’re either for one faction or another, with very little middle ground.
And this conflict serves as a complex backdrop in the development of multifaceted characters like Miriam, Susan, Dune and others to weave a dark — yet highly entertaining — tale.
As in the first book, there is lyrical writing and memorable turns-of-phrase everywhere. Such as:
“His red lips showed exquisite pain and pleasure with the tiniest movements of pointed corners. In the dream, he dressed like Lord Byron. We lived wild in the gorse, swam in stars together, became wind whipping up wildfire turning heather to passion. We were a lighting storm. We were eternal.”
And this deliciously foreshadowing phrase:
“The future licked my skin and made it shiver.”
And, this pensive passage:
“We’re inside a story, I thought. The edges of our story are like moss, the little viney spots in the yard by the terraces and the spaces between the fence posts and the rocky hill, inhabited by glowing imagination since I was a child giddy with breathing into other worlds.”
As this storyline unfolds, Susan suddenly falters during the last performance of the season, and Miriam, aura glowing, glides in to flawlessly finish the show to accolades and bravos. Susan, meanwhile, is whisked off to a remote castle owned by a friend of Dune’s — ostensibly to convalesce.
But there is more to Dune’s motives than helping his wife get better. She soon finds that she is a virtual prisoner in the feudal keep, dodging rats and listening furtively to Dune and his fellow Nevermind agents plan the eventual overthrow of the world. And it gets even better after that, with aborted escapes through hidden passageways, unforeseen plot twists, and surprise character reveals that will keep you turning pages right through to the end.
This is not meant to be a lighthearted romp through arcane information about ancient legends and curious customs that, in the book, have arisen to divide nations. It’s more than that — much more.
It is a masterwork of storytelling with a very sharp edge and a keen wit to boot. It peels back the intricate subderma overlaying each major character’s persona, revealing our all-too-human vulnerabilities to mass suggestion. And it once again points up the critical need to be ever vigilant in guarding our very thoughts in an increasingly invasive society.
Five and a half stars to Encore and to its visionary author, Tantra Bensko. The first novel in the Nevermind series won a gold medal for excellence in writing. The sequel should win platinum. And it’s a book that should be on everyone’s reading shortlist this summer.