It’s taken me a while to get going on this series of novels, even though I have been collecting each volume as it has been published. I originally read the first volume A Princess of Roumania back in 2005 with enjoyment but with a few reservations. There was something about the writing style that put me off at the time, hard to say what it was. Perhaps the prose struck me as drab in comparison to other authors who are masterful prose stylists. However, the story itself was unusual and the alternate historical setting I thought highly original in concept. Also it had one of the most remarkable literary villains in the character of Baroness Nicola Ceausescu. She steals the show from the heroine Miranda Popescu and is the most interesting character in the novels, psychologically complex, murderously wicked and deceitful - but somehow appealing.
Now that I have all four of the books, I started reading them from the start and found A Princess of Roumania engrossing this time around, and eagerly moving on to the successive volumes, finished the final volume, The Hidden World, last Saturday morning.
As I read on, the story developed, the plot thickened, and it became a gripping, edgy and complex narrative.
There are vengeful ghosts aplenty, animal spirits, demons, shapeshifters, black and white magic and mysterious objects with extraordinary powers. The action passes back and forth between several points of view as a particular character takes centre stage.
There are several other main characters, besides the Baroness and Miranda. Firstly there are Miranda’s two companions, Peter Gross and Andromeda, who have been transformed from adolescent high school students to Pieter de Graz and Sasha Prochenko, reincarnated heroes of an older Roumania. Time and space is fluid in this series and the characters change in strange ways, both personally and physically. Also prominent throughout is the Baroness’ valet Jean Baptiste, Police Chief Luckacz who is torn between his duty to the State and his helpless love for the Baroness, Kevin Markesev the magically created child, a coven of old women magicians, the old Princess, Miranda’s birth mother and a host of secondary characters whose actions affect the plot in unforeseen ways either aiding or impeding the heroine’s progress towards her destiny.
In the alternate Roumania the spirit or hidden world is close to the surface. Magic works and sorcery is used for both good and evil purposes. As in Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials world, each person has an animal spirit, though it is normally not visible and only manifests at death. In the hidden world people are seen through their animal personas, and Miranda is purported to be the White Tyger returned to save Roumania from invasion by Turkey, emulating her ancestress, the original White Tyger Miranda Brancoveanu.
Having read the quartet in its entirety, I can truthfully say that The Roumanian Quartet is a highly original fantasy series and an engaging reading experience, from which you emerge as if from a dark dream, full of colour and the swirling movements of an alternative history that even so has echoes of the contemporary world.