The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

An Ace Science Fiction Special, with appropriately enigmatic cover art by the husband-and-wife team of Leo and Diane Dillon, The Phoenix and the Mirror: Or, the Enigmatic Speculum was the first book in a projected series titled Vergil Magus. The second and only other book, Vergil in Averno, was published in 1987. Its events precede those of The Phoenix and the Mirror. In both novels, Avram Davidson expands on the medieval conceit that the Roman poet Vergil was a magician.

Lost in a labyrinth of tunnels and pursued by manticores, Vergil escapes with the assistance of Queen Cornelia of Carsus and her servants. When Cornelia discovers who the magus is, she uses magic to take his masculinity hostage, then orders him to make her a virgin mirror, with which she can locate her daughter, Laura, who has been lost on the way from Carsus to Naples. Once the device is made and used, Cornelia will allow Vergil to become a whole man again.

A virgin mirror is made of tin and copper ores smelted and blended with care. Never exposed to light as it is polished, lidded, and closed with a clasp, it will show whoever first uncovers it whatever he or she desires to see. Such a device could take a year to make, and Vergil knows the queen will not be patient. She plans to use the princess’ marriage to advance political aims.

Tin is a monopoly of Tartismen, who import it from a fabulous distance, already cast into ingots. Vergil must obtain raw ore quickly. He goes to the traders’ Cyclopean castle in Naples to ask their help. While there, he meets a Phoenician captain, Ebbed-Saphir, and thwarts an assassination attempt. In gratitude, the Tartismen’s Captain-Lord sends a messenger-bird and two falcons to attempt to obtain a small quantity of tin ore.

Copper, too, is customarily imported in ingots, although the source is much nearer at hand. Because of the Sea-Huns, the ships that bring it from Cyprus travel in yearly convoys. Vergil cannot wait, so...

(The entire section is 821 words.)