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  • Desideria (December 2008, Prime)
    • When Ange St Loup is brought unconscious to the madhouse of the Amaranth, she is outlandishly dressed, covered with scorches from the building she burned and bruises from jumping out one of its windows, and her mouth is sewn shut. And that is all she knows.
    • Even as her memory returns to her, and she begins to piece together the puzzle of her life as an actress in the theatre Lady Minerva, every answer only raises further questions, and at the heart of them remain the ones she has no answers for. Answers that might explain what she was doing in an alley, by night, outside a burning building, with her face mutilated and her mind in tatters.
    • Which version of the story is the truth? Is it Ange’s own, despite the amnesia that only gives back her past in fragments? Is it the madhouse warders’, which paints Ange as a murderer, or the prioress’s, which paints her as insane? Is it the one that returns to Ange piecemeal, over time, growing only more sinister as it inches toward completion? Or is the truth something more complex, more dangerous, than anything that Ange can even grasp?
    • Booklist says: Kornher-Stace’s exceptionally well-crafted debut plays out in a byzantine milieu of madhouses and melodramatic theater in an unnamed seventeenth-century European metropolis. When a woman is found lying outside a burning building, her memory mislaid, and her lips sewn shut, her only recourse for shelter is the church-run Amaranth asylum. Protected from abusive wardens by a resourceful fellow inmate, she slowly recaptures her identity as Ange St. Loup, a rising actress in one of the city’s less-reputable theaters. As her life in the colorful Lady Minerva troupe comes back to her, however, Ange must grapple with the accusation that she is both insane and a murderess. Yet her greatest challenge awaits her in the person of Lady Minerva’s unseen puppet master, a shadowy criminal mastermind known only as the Specialist, who subtly manipulates Ange’s environment in a scheme bent on molding her into the city’s greatest actress. In richly textured, atmospheric prose, Kornher-Stace delivers a spellbinding tale of deception, betrayal, and the darker possibilities of playacting.
    • Realms of Fantasy says: A relatively new writer whose short fiction has been reprinted by Best American Fantasy, among others, Nicole Kornher-Stace tends toward the experimental, which is great for fantasy fans looking for something a little different. With her first novel, Desideria, she’s created an intriguing, sometimes overlong mystery/psychological drama in which a woman named Ange St Loup wakes up in a madhouse, her memory in ruins. Her face is mutilated and she was found beside a burning building. Is she a murderer? Is she insane? As she tries to regain control of her life, she must find out what happened that night, the implications of which become broader and broader. Kornher-Stace tells the story in often hallucinogenic prose, including asides that sing with true poetry. The setting is an imaginary city, but in a more contemporary/realistic mode than in most fantasies. It’s unlikely you’ll read a more unusual novel this year.
    • Locus says: Desideria … turns out to be peculiar, both flawed and eloquent, maddening yet haunting, sharply observant of its characters even if they melt into the fever dreams of hallucination, madness, or something truly alien.
    • Check out the Fantasy Book Critic review!
    • Buy it on Amazon.
    • Or perhaps on Powell’s.