This final story in my fantasy-steampunk trilogy centers on Fanule Perfidor, the central character in Mongrel. He must confront unsettling truths about himself. They have to do with his illness (bipolar disease), strengths, weaknesses, and, most significantly, an aspect of his past he's never come to terms with. In the process, he puts his relationship with Will Marchman, and Will himself, in jeopardy.
Simon Bentcross goes through a similar ordeal. Although his storyline is secondary in this book, it mirrors Fanule's in many ways.
Most of Machine takes place in Taintwell. However, the Marvelous Mechanical Circus makes a farewell appearance, as does its "Gutter" or Caravan Park. Fanule's ghostly healer friend, Lizabetta, plays a significant role. More of her past, too, comes to light.
Throughout, things are not always what they seem. Villainy comes in unexpected forms; redemption, in unexpected ways. In the end, Lizabetta tells Fanule, "You know, dear Fan, you've not only earned your title, you've infused it with meaning. 'Eminence of Taintwell' no longer sounds pompous and silly. It sounds majestic. And it suits you." What's much more important to Fan, though, is being the finest man, and partner, he can be.
Here's an unedited excerpt.
The plaza was all but deserted by mid-afternoon. Sellers and speech-makers had begun trickling away just after lunch, when the throng of browsers thinned. Some visitors sought further entertainment within the Marvelous Mechanical Circus; others, their appetite for novelty sated, went elsewhere.
The affable inebriant Ernest Muggins simply got up, walked away from his table, and never returned. All he’d taken with him was his tin.
Will had just finished closing and locking his cart when a shadow fell over him, chilling the air. He looked up. Instantly, his breath caught.
The owner of the Spiritorium loomed beside him. As if that sight weren’t unnerving enough, the man fixed him with intense violet eyes. “You exude the scent of Quam Khar,” he said without introduction or preface. “It’s faint but still detectable. Yet, you’re not Quam Khar. You haven’t the depth or complexity. You haven’t the dark corners where broken wings beat.”
What on earth was he talking about? Dumbfounded, Will stared. He tried to assume a neutral expression, but he’d always failed miserably at concealing his reactions. “I… no, I’m not Quam Khar.” Surely, Will thought, he looked far too ordinary to have such an unusual name.
The man didn’t answer, didn’t move. “Who’s your wife?” He stated the question quite unabashedly, as if he had every right to ask it.
“N-no one. I’ve never been married. I’m a bachelor.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. Will’s insides shriveled. Coldly slicing into him, layer by layer, that surgical gaze seemed to go on forever. “Not lawfully wed, eh? Then you’re a fornicator who preys on Out-dwellers. That’s what you are. A user of the Blesséd Damned.” He took a step forward. “What’s her name?”
Will blinked as his befuddlement, and his discomfiture, deepened. “I beg your pardon?”
“The woman. What’s her name?”
“I’m afraid I have no idea to whom you’re referring.” Or what the hell you’re talking about! Trying to still his quaking hands, Will pulled up the handle of his cart. “Now I must take my leave of you, sir. I have other obligations.”
“No doubt.” The man inclined his head. “Perhaps we’ll meet again, Master Marchman.”
Not if I can help it, Will thought as he hastily pushed his much-lighter cart toward the Circus’s employee entrance.