Flint and Mirror

John Crowley. Tor, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-81752-5

Crowley (the Aegypt tetralogy) triumphs with this beautiful, subtle fantasy, set in a 17th-century Ireland subject to both the desires of Queen Elizabeth and a host of magical forces. Crowley introduces his protagonist, Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, as an adult in Rome, where he lives in fear despite residing in apartments provided by the pope himself; his past actions mean that he must sleep with a sword within arm’s reach because “on any night he might be murdered by agents of one or another of the powers he had striven with, or betrayed, or failed.” Having hooked his audience, Crowley flashes back to previous chapters in O’Neill’s life, starting with his childhood, to explain how he came to be at odds with both the English and Spanish Crowns, and his own Irish clan. Rich, evocative prose (“The ship she had watched could still be seen, dis-masted now and smashed in the rocks like unswallowed fragments in a mastiff’s mouth”), one of Crowley’s hallmarks, elevate this above similar works. Fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will be mesmerized. (Apr.)