Tallis Steelyard in his position as a jobbing poet frequently encounters situations where he is asked favors, something he is almost always willing to do as a normal part of the networking a jobbing poet needs to do. Word-of-mouth fame brings business. When his latest potential patron, Mistress Bellin Hanchkillian asks him to do a favor for an old friend of hers, for Tallis it is an offer he can’t refuse. Mistress Bellin knows a lot about Tallis; she knows of wife Shena, Mutt, Shena’s assistant, and Benor, the Toelar Roof-runner, and cartographer who is temporarily staying with Tallis and Shena. Mistress Belin gives Tallis permission to share information with his close confederates to help solve a vexing problem of blackmail.
In A Much Arranged Marriage by Jim Webster, someone is threatening to reveal an unfortunate incident from the past about Fidelia, the granddaughter of Sophire Eranis, the friend of Mistress Bellin. It seems that Fidelia has returned to Port Naain after a long absence. She has become engaged to Thrab Jisqueal, one of the last surviving heirs to a fabulous family fortune. The engagement would not have surprised the residents of Port Naain; Fidelia had been seen in Thrab’s company before she left for several months in the company of her father for Prae Ducis. One of the reasons she had gone with her father was to avoid Thrab. She didn’t want to escape Thrab, but her father disapproved of him.
Returned to Port Naain and engaged to Thrab, a new complication came to the attention of Tallis via his patron. Vargan Acatour of Prae Ducis had shown up in Port Naain to look for wife Fidelia and their baby. A housemaid from the house of Sophire Eranis informed him Fidelia was dead; another servant told him the child was alive and was being looked after at a Foundling Hospital run by The Order of the Illuminated Seditionists. Mistress Bellin knew all of this was going on; she gave Tallis the mission of unscrambling the mess and finding a truth that would avoid a scandal for her old friend.
The above summary set up illustrates a few things. One of the joys of a Tallis Steelyard tale is names. Names of characters are so improbable they have their amusement factor. There is The Order of the Illuminated Seditionists. The explanation of why this title was adopted is given in the story. The thinking behind it is revolutionary. Later in the story, readers will encounter an authoritarian body known as The Council of Sinecurists. What a great name for a governing body of officials!
Language for Tallis and all associated with these stories veers between Victorian English on one side and made-up words tinged with sarcasm and humor on the other. One example is: “ Tomorrow the midden is going to hit the windmill.” (Kindle location 622). During one incident, a character must unobtrusively enter a building. How to do it is a problem. As with many cases, money is the answer. Seeing a sum of money exceeding his expectations, Tallis states: “For that sort of money we could get you in there riding in a chariot, drawn by usurers being flogged by naked harlots.” (Kindle locations 635-636).
While the story content and world building of Tallis Steelyard adventures are superior, I am addicted to the language play. This short story is a five-star Amazon read. I will read more by Jim Webster. I highly recommend Tallis Steelyard adventures.