Mahogany Trinrose

MHGNTRNRSQ1981Mahogany Trinrose by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Doubleday, 1981
Price I paid: none

Ercy Farris, heir apparent to the House of Zeor, lives in a time when humanity has mutated into predatory Simes, and their prey, Gens, who produce the selyn which the Simes need to survive…and will kill to get. Centuries ago, a Sime-submutation appeared, the channels, with the ability to take selyn from Gens without killing and to transfer it to Simes. Now, a complex social structure rules the world, with the channels at the top, preventing Simes from killing Gens.

Ercy, a not-yet-matured channel, has dedicated her life to cultivating the mahogany trinrose, source of the drug kerduvon, which legend says can free humanity of the threat of the kill.

Pursuing the secret of the mahogany trinrose during her changeover into an adult Sime, she wakens in herself powers outlawed by her society as witchcraft: telekinesis, clairvoyance, teleportation…and the strange power to make her wishes come true. Yet as they come true, they make her into a danger to her Householding and her world.

One man, the mysterious Halimer Grant, can help her in the desperate struggle to preserve those she loves and their ideals. What price does he foresee that makes him hesitate?

So the story of how I came across this book is kinda fun. I’d been on the lookout for it for a while, as I’ve read the first two books in the series and, while I can’t say that I’ve been super keen on them, they have managed to stick in my head. Plus, since the second book was an improvement over the first, I was curious if the series did manage to go on an upswing as they went on.

So I’d check at McKay, my usual bookstore (without which this blog could not exist), and while I would often see some of the later books in the series, I never saw this one. I didn’t want to skip around, so I let them be.

A few days ago I got it into my head to check the shelves at the library where I work. I knew they weren’t in the science fiction stacks, since I spend so much of my time there, but it occurred to me that maybe a branch had a copy or something. To be honest, I’m not sure what caused me to do the search. So when results came back and it turned out that not only did we have several books in the series, but they were quite literally under my feet, down a floor on the storage shelves where there’s not much reason for me to go otherwise.

At any point in the past two years I could have run down there and nabbed this book, as well as the next one in the series.

I put aside the book I was going to read this week and decided to tackle this one, because for some damn reason I cannot put this series down. I don’t know why that is, but I’ve come up with some possible reasons.

Mahogany Trinrose is the third book to be released in the Sime/Gen universe, but from what I gather the suggested reading order puts it down a little further. That’s okay, I have a tendency to prefer the publishing order in books, but I don’t begrudge an author wanting people to read in a preferred chronological order. That’s their choice.

In Unto Zeor, Forever, we met Digen Farris, head of the House of Zeor and consequently one of the most powerful people in the world, Sime or not. Farris is a channel, which you might remember means that he can eat the selyn energy from Gens without killing them and transfer it over to other Simes who don’t have that ability. That means he’s special, but he’s also got a problem that arose from the last book, which means he’s not allowed to use his channel powers. A lot of this book deals with trying to fix that problem, the details of which are full of Sime/Gen terminology that I just can’t be bothered to remember long enough to recite in detail.

Long story short, though, Farris has lost some of his channel powers.

This is a matter of concern for a lot of people, and it’s time for his daughter, Ercy, to take up the mantle. Or it would be, except Ercy hasn’t had her changeover yet. She’s running behind. Baby Simes are the same as Gens until they grow their arm tentacles and gain their magic psychic powers. This usually happens around puberty, but Ercy is pushing 17 and hasn’t done any of that yet.

Instead, she’s a gardener. Her goal in life is to produce the titular mahogany trinrose, which, according to legend, will allow her to distill a substance that will cure her father of his problem. It all has something to do with the urge to kill.

One thing this book doesn’t have that its predecessors did is a glossary. While this is something I celebrate because I think glossaries in genre novels are bad form—a good writer can use their world’s terminology in a way that lets us figure out what things mean—I will admit a few times that I wanted to go back and see what the heck this book was talking about by consulting the glossaries in earlier books. I am not well-versed in Simelan.

The majority of this book is about growing up, and Lichtenberg captured a lot of that very well. It also is a book about turning into a Sime, something I think most of us don’t have experience doing, and again, Lichtenberg captured that very well. We learn a lot about Simes in this book, how they work and so on, and unlike the other books in this series we learn about them in a way that doesn’t take a backseat to the plot. In this case, it is the plot, and it works.

Ercy starts to grow up and eventually she does have her changeover. Part of this seems to be under the influence of a guy named Halimer Grant, whose mysterious past was telegraphed a little too obviously at times. He just shows up and is pretty cool all around, but whenever anybody is like “Where you from” he’s just like “Uhh” and they respond “It’s okay, I’m sure your papers will show up shortly” and he’s like “Uhh, yeah! That’s it!” and nobody is suspicious about any of this.

Halimer is a Gen and he has some kind of mystical connection with Ercy, as her changeover is timed pretty well with his arrival. It’s also obvious that Ercy wants to get down and dirty with this guy from the start, what with the tentacles and the selyn and all that nasty stuff.

Actually this book didn’t play up the sexual angle nearly as much as preceding books in the series, and I was thankful for that. I’ve said time and again that I’m not a prude and I think sex in a science fiction book is great if it has a point, but I will also reiterate that the sexy stuff in these books, especially Unto Zeor, Forever, was just a bit on the unnecessary and distracting side. Maybe I didn’t get it or something, but that’s just how I feel. Mahogany Trinrose had little to no tentacle sex of any sort, although part of transferring selyn still relies upon massive smooches.

Ercy grows up and learns about her special Sime powers. She learns to zlin, which is like seeing but not, and she learns to augment her physical powers by tapping into her selyn reserves, which would make for an interesting mechanic in an RPG game, although I guess that’s basically blood magic.

Incidentally, some studio is/was working on a video game based on this series, called Ambrov X, although it appears to be on hiatus, or maybe outright cancelled, since there’s not anything on the Internet to say about it since 2014 or so. Sadfrown. I’d’ve tried it.

Ercy goes to Sime college, where her roommate is a young lady named Joeslee. Joeslee is a “gypsy” and was rescued after some Gens tried to set her on fire for being a witch. There’s this weird element of witchcraft in this book, this magic versus science angle, that I’m not sure fit all that well. Ercy kept trying to convince people that “magic” is just science that’s not yet understood, which I think of as a fairly obvious sort of position to take, and everybody else’s response is BURN YE WYTCHE.

Pedantic moment: the word ye was never meant to be a synonym or replacement for the. The reason people seem to think it is is because of a decision on the part of early printshops.

Things come to a head when Ercy’s dickbag cousin, Rellow, accuses her of witchcraft for trying to grow the mahogany trinrose because the thing is supposed to be a legend. Rellow just wants to oust Ercy as the proper successor to the House of Zeor so that he can get the job one day. Also he’s just a huge, huge douche.

Gens, in general (Genseral?) don’t come off much better in this book, since they’re the ones burning witches and stuff. There’s an angle in this book that’s commentary on man’s inhumanity to man, all this stuff about prejudice and racism and so forth, but all of it falls on the Gens, who, as we know, are just regular people. Simes are much better than Gens at everything, and this is something that bothers me. Mostly just because they’re an entire race of Mary Sues.

And it’s nearly three quarters of the way through the book that it turns out that Ercy is the most Mary Sue of the race of Maries Sue. It turns out she has psychic powers that even other Simes don’t have. Even other channels. Since channels are a sub-mutation of Simes, this makes Ercy a sub-sub-mutation, called Fully Endowed, which means she can use selyn to do things like clairvoyance and telekinesis.

Also, it turns out that her roommate, Joeslee, is also a sub-sub-mutation, called a Tigue channel, which I don’t think was ever quite explained, but it’s something that people know about and at one point it explains a lot of her weirdness.

But Ercy’s specialness isn’t something a lot of people know about, but one person does. It’s our old friend Halimer, who’s been slinking around acting all mysterious for the rest of the book. He comes out and says that yes, Ercy is super special. In the meantime, people are calling for her head because she was experimenting with her psychic powers and accidentally burned a building down. Dickbag Rellow shows up again and says that this time she’s disqualified from being the Sectuib of Zeor and so is Digen Farris because he’s her dad so he, Loserboy, ought to be in charge.

Ercy and Halimer and Joeslee leave for Halimer’s people so Ercy can use her powers for awesome. She leaves behind some of the potion made by the titular trinrose, which Farris takes and gets his powers back, thus allowing him to tell his idiot nephew to go tentacle himself, and the book ends there.

I’m going to say that this one was a lot better than its predecessors, although I still had some trouble nailing down what was supposed to be going on here and there. These books don’t have very straightforward plots, they’re more like slices of life than anything else, but once I got used to that fact I grew to enjoy it. Where I think House of Zeor went wrong was in trying to have a more straightforward plot where a guy was trying to rescue his girlfriend and fell by the wayside because it was a show-and-tell book instead. Mahogany Trinrose didn’t fall into that trap and instead was a competent show-and-tell book with a variety of troubles that kept creeping up here and there and had to be dealt with.

What really stuck with me, though, is just how much it feels like Jacqueline Lichtenberg loves the universe she created. She relates it to us in much the same way you’d expect a writer to talk about his or her hometown as a setting. It’s very matter-of-fact, come-on-let-me-show-you-around, oh-you-need-to-meet-this-guy, and stuff like that. She uses the language and the terminology of this world like it’s second nature. I respect the hell out of that. It’s something I wish I could do.

What it ends up doing is dragging me into this world that, quite honestly, I wouldn’t otherwise care about. There’s nothing about the Sime/Gen thing that really speaks to me as a setting or a plot or anything like that, but holy hell, do I get drawn into these books. It’s not even like they’re especially well-written—although they are better written than most things I read—but they do manage to capture setting in a way that keeps me wondering just what’s going to happen next, how things are going to develop, and what brought us to this point in the first place.

It makes me understand these books’ massive fanbase a bit more, although Lichtenberg’s enthusiastic involvement with her fans explains a lot of that too. In the end, I have to say that while I don’t actually like these books much, I’ve come to appreciate them, and that’s a weird place for me to be.

I guess I’ll just have to keep reading.

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