Black Gate Online, October 7, 2012

Black Gate Online, October 7, 2012

Reviewed in this issue is:

“The Quintessence of Absence” by Sean McLachlan

Beyond its plethora of technical issues, Sean McLachlan’s urban fantasy novella, “The Quintessence of Absence,” is a story of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons. The protagonist, Lothar, is a loser who is addicted to the drug of forgetfulness, nepenthe. In a former life, Lothar was a wizard in Herr Eisenbach’s employ. Then, like Satan from Heaven, Lothar fell from grace. That’s not the stupid part.

The stupidity begins when Francesco, the man who got Lothar fired from his previous job, shows up at Lothar’s dingy tenement to hire Lothar to find Eisenbach’s missing daughter, Birgit. This is wrong on so many levels. So, why does Francesco do it? Because when Eisenbach discovered his soon-to-be-married, sweet sixteen-year-old daughter smoking nepenthe, he had her locked in her room. Birgit rebelled and escaped out a window. Francesco thinks Birgit has gotten in with the wrong kinds of people and naturally, loser Lothar, himself a nepenthe addict, is the only one who could possibly locate the girl. While Francesco isn’t so stupid as to give Lothar any money up front, he does provide the druggie with a nice pistol, complete with a full powder horn. And does Francesco think it reasonable that Lothar also be provided a companion of any sort—someone who might at least try to ensure that Lothar stays straight while doing the job, report back to Francesco, and maybe even help in the search? Not. At. All. This, then is the first real stupidity.

Next up, we get three paragraphs of unnecessary exposition about Lothar’s history, followed by, “Lothar didn’t dwell on these things,” which is shorthand for “You’ve just been given a massive infodump. Please pretend otherwise and continue reading.” Then we get to see Lothar sell the powder horn’s contents to get money to feed his addiction. He does ask a few questions about Birgit, and do enough investigation to find a large and ominous spell that reeks of evil and is drawn on a warehouse wall in blood, some of it Birgit’s. However, it’s getting late, and any further inquiries will have to wait until morning because getting high right now is much more important than looking for Eisenbach’s kid.

The story continues in pretty much this way: Lothar makes contact with someone from his past and they tell him what a wonderful person he used to be, and how nepenthe has ruined his life, and how they still care about him and wish he would stop doing that awful drug. Finally, in every instance, people either turn over whatever information they have or sneak around behind their father’s back to bring it to Lothar. Between drug-induced hazes, Lothar also manages to drink a lot of beer and wine—alcoholically of course—and eat very little food. This is not the one and only guy any reasonable person would hire to search for a missing pencil, much less a missing person.

Far too long later, and with collateral damage caused by his addiction, Lothar manages to solve, as it were, the case. A non-drug-addled person would have managed it in about five thousand words instead of the twenty-five thousand used here.

Let me be clear. Lothar being a druggie isn’t what’s giving me fits. Rather, it is the implausibility of the situation coupled with the deficient writing that trouble me with this tale. The tropes here are tired; the mechanics are marginal; and, the plot is problematic. That this is the second weak story from Black Gate in as many weeks troubles me as well.

A version of this review appears on the Tangent Online website.

Comments are closed.

Scroll To Top