Book Review: A THOUSAND PERFECT THINGS by Kay Kenyon


In her epic new work, A Thousand Perfect Things (Premier Digital Publishing), award-winning author Kay  Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century earth ruled by the warring factions of scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India).

The main protagonist is Astoria (Tori) Harding, a young woman who aspires to be a scientist in the mould of her botanist grandfather. Her grandfather has a book which describes a mysterious golden lotus, said to be imbued with healing properties. In Bharata, however, the lotus is believed to be a gift from the gods, and has extraordinary magical powers beyond which the rationalists of Anglica can even imagine.

Against the constraints of her society, and the wishes of parents, Tori longs to travel to Bharata in search of the lotus, and to scotch the attempts to discredit her grandfather’s reputation in the scientific community owing to his attempts to investigate magic in a scientific context. When a series of events makes the journey to Bharata possible, Tori crosses the ocean-spanning bridge and is forced to brave the continent’s magics, intrigues, deadly secrets and haunted places, to claim her destiny and choose between two lovers in two irreconcilable realms.

As a great native insurrection sweeps the continent of Bharata, Tori will find the thing she most desires, beautifully flawed and more wonderfully strange than she could have ever dreamed. It is the very idea of the flaw that is the central precept of the novel. It is summarised in this tale that Mishka, the Bharata prince’s mother, tells Tori:

“Once, the god Rama sought through the world to find things without fault. He lay with beautiful women, collected fabulous paintings and found poems of great brilliance. But the women grew old, the paintings rotted and the poems grew tiresome with repetition. He then retreated to his home on Mount Mahameru. From this holy place he decided that should a thousand perfect things ever be found, the world would end. Therefore to preserve the world, Rama declared that every manifested thing should have a flaw.”

A Thousand Perfect Things is closer in spirit to a Victorian romantic novel than a steampunk adventure, though it has elements of the latter, too. Where it parts company with steampunk is partly down to pacing, which is a slow unfolding of character and story, and partly the fact that it is so character-driven. Take Tori herself, a woman whose club foot is a metaphor for the way her society hobbles women who have any ambitions beyond purely domestic ones. Whether this is a modern feminist thread to the tale, or a critique on extremist religions which even today ban the education of women, is open to debate. In any case, Tori is a feisty, clever woman who proves to be more than a match for the forces that attempt to devolve against her ambitions.

Bharata is a place where Tori’s rationalism is first challenged and then unbalanced, as she encounters spirit monsters, ghosts and demons and even fellow countrymen who are not all they seem.

My second favourite character in the book is Tori’s principal adversary, Mahindra. Part guru, part court adviser, Mahindra is also in search of the golden lotus, and will go to any lengths to obtain it. His reasons are both spiritual and political, much as were those of Ghandi in our own world. Indeed, with his wire-rimmed spectacles, his political acuity and wisdom, Mahindra could easily have been inspired by the Mahatma himself.

The story is told through the eyes of multiple characters and, while the changing points of view may not appeal to all readers, I felt it was necessary in order to convey all the complexities which make the novel as rich as it is. I admired both the period drama aspects, and the science fictional elements such as the ocean bridge and the idea of alternate realities or parallel universes. One tiny carp was the few anachronisms here and there, contemporary American idioms which felt out of place, the worst being the reference to “getting laid.” However, they were not enough to spoil my enjoyment of a novel which is beautifully written, emotional, full of adventure, scandal and intrigue as well as having a host of seriously cool, original monsters and exciting scientific ideas.


John Dodds Review by John Dodds

John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and, under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories called Warriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk series called The Mechanikals.

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