The Architecture of Desire

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

White Crow, the former Valentine of Roseveare, once a Scholar-Soldier but now a Master-Physician of the Invisible College with all the magical powers common to the calling, journeys to London with her husband Casaubon, Lord-Architect, who has been invited to finish “the eye of the sun” temple. What they find is intrigue and danger.

Protector-General Olivia needs the temple completed in order to legitimize her power to the populace, but misfortune has dogged the edifice: numerous attempts at constructing the dome fail, workers meet with accidents, and the walls ooze blood, attracting “demonic power.” Casaubon is up to the challenge, but he is more interested in redesigning the surrounding slums, a breeding ground for criminals. Meanwhile White Crow, trusted by the queen, conspires to encourage the queen to defect, thereby opening up the possibility of a peaceful transition to a new government headed by Olivia. But White Crow and Casaubon are entangled in unfolding events. Calmady, friend of Casaubon and captain of a band of mercenaries, is charged with the rape of Desire-of-the-Lord Guillaime, the queen’s messenger who is under the protection of White Crow. White Crow, at first revolted by Calmady, ultimately fights to save him, strapping on the sword of the Scholar-Soldier that she sorely missed—her change of heart occasioned by her own sexual obsession with the woman.

Anything is possible in this novel imbued with an aura of magic. White Crow, as a Master-Physician, can create icy blasts and images of snow leopards to intimidate a band of mercenary troops, shower hail on an attacking mob, or cause gallows to sprout chestnut leaves and branches. But ultimately the novel with its loose ends is disappointing. Casaubon is hired to complete the temple, indeed much of the novel concerns it, but apparently nothing is accomplished; Calmady, saved from hanging by White Crow, disappears at the novel’s conclusion. Desire, who is “joyful in a time of war” and spies because it “amuse[s]” her, hangs herself after discovering that she has a venereal disease, a disappointing ending for an intriguing woman. Even with an action-filled plot and colorful characters, the novel ultimately does not engage the reader.