Janet Zabrinski, now Jane Gray for the stage, is an actress with dreams of being in a Broadway production. It’s not an easy life, however, in the big city of New York. Her best friend and roommate Rickie is battling cancer. Things seem to be just falling apart, with strange dust storms, the world crumbling, and an odor of decay about the city, and the entire world. Even as the role of her life falls into her lap, an encounter with a childhood friend, a childhood friend that Jane had thought to be imaginary, sends her into a space between worlds, and to another universe. A strange universe indeed, one shaped and in the appearance of a great ocean liner, a world whose fate has unexpected connections to Earth. And to Jane herself.
Queen of the Deep is a Portal fantasy from Kay Kenyon.
It’s impossible for me to talk about Kay Kenyon’s Queen of the Deep without talking about her Entire and the Rose Quartet, given the many resonances between the works. In many ways, to me, Queen of the Deep is a revisiting of many of the ideas and themes of that series, except in a more purely fantasy mode, and in a single volume.
The Entire and the Rose Quartet, starting with Bright of the Sky, is a science fiction portal fantasy series. In that series, Titus Quinn, former space pilot, uses high technology to cross the boundary from our universe to the universe of the Entire. The Entire is an entire universe as a fractal, bulbous shape, an artificial construct of a universe created by the inhuman Tarig. The Entire has cultures and societies borrowed from Earth, even as they are impressed and and used by the inhuman races that dwell in the Entire. The Entire, too, has further and deeper connections to the Earth. Titus Quinn, himself, is a man who bridges the gap between these two universes for good reason.
By comparison, Jane Gray uses a much more fantastical space between dimensions as the bridge between the Earth and the Italian Renaissance ship-liner world of the Palazzo. Like Quinn, Gray discovers the strange artificial nature of this universe rather quickly, and the nature and origin of that artificial universe, and what it means for itself and the Earth have strong thematic resonances. Too, there are political connections. Like Quinn, Gray is thrust into a complex web of politics and intrigue, although on a much more personal scale than Quinn deals with in the Entire. Both protagonists also have prior personal connections to residents of their world as well, and Jane’s navigation of those difficult relationships are as thorny, and interesting, as Quinn’s is.
Interestingly for me, the Entire and the Rose Quartet, for all of its being strictly science fiction in the mechanics, has fantasy as many of its trappings. Like Herbert’s Dune, while all around there is technology and very high technology, the epic fantasy feel of the Entire and Rose novels is unmistakable, signal, and strong. By comparison, Queen of the Deep is a fantasy, with a heroine that comes at the fantastical world she is thrust in with a strong, rationalist bent. Even as she accepts the existence of magic, and oracles, and sorcerers, Jane always tries to make rational sense of the Palazzo and its world. While she does take advantage of magic when she can, it is her deduction and reliance on logic and reason and investigation that helps see her through, again and again.
Above and beyond all of the resonances and parallels and reversals, I see Queen of the Deep very much in the recent tradition of the revival of Portal Fantasy by authors like Violette Malan and Alyx Dellamonica. The author may have recapitulated some of her earlier ideas. However, the author’s craft has made this a more compact, crisp story (sometimes far too compact for its own good), and marks a further and successful evolution of the writer’s craft from science fiction and into the realms of fantasy.