Majestrum is set in the Penultimate Age of Old Earth, an age immediately preceding The Dying Earth of Jack Vance, an age where magic is making a comeback. Henghis Hapthorn is a lot like Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock Holmes had a second personality that was rooted in magic, or sympathetic association, if you prefer, instead of science. Henghis Hapthorn's interplay with his Integrator and his second personality are the driving force of the novel and make for some laughs and also raise philosophical questions.
As this is the beginning of a series of books featuring Henghis Hapthorn and the world of the Archonate, I think it might be helpful if I provide some background on the setting and the character of Henghis Hapthorn. THE ARCHONATE This story as well as many of Matthew Hughes other works take place in the Penultimate Age of the Dying Earth (aka the Archonate). The Archonate is an age based on science, technology and rationality. He is the quintessential product of the scientific, rational age he lives in.BUT.WAITbecause that is only half of who Henghis Hapthorn is. This additional side of Hapthorn is the result of events that occurred in the short stories contained in The Gist Hunter and Other Stories (which is where the character of Henghis is introduced). END SIDE NOTE Okay, so as I mentioned above, the universe of the Archonate is gradually shifting from a science/rational basis to a magic/intuition basis. FINAL THOUGHTS A terrific a wonderful story and series that should appeal to fans of Jack Vance. While the writing is not as evocative and polished as Vance, the setting itself and the science fiction/fantasy elements are every bit as fun as those in my favorite Vance stories. Hapthorn is a great character and provides a wonderful vehicle through which to carry the plot forward and keep the enjoyment factor constant.
Majestrum is a fast-paced novel which reads much like a crime thriller (Matthew Hughes writes those under the name Matt Hughes) with a heavy dose of sarcasm, irony, and dry humor. Matthew Hughes' droll writing style is amusing, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments such as when Henghis has to put on upper-class ornamentation so that the nobles can perceive him, when his integrator/familiar falls asleep at crucial moments, and when hardened criminals are given to the Corps of Buffoons, fitted with coercion suits, and compelled to publicly act in bawdy plays. (If I had read any of his other novels, I'd have a better feel for this.) Henghis Hapthorn who, according to his alter-ego is "trapped in linear rationalism," dismisses key facts and comes to a ridiculously and obviously wrong conclusion about the strange case they're working on, and ends up putting themselves in danger. If you're already a Matthew Hughes fan, if you enjoy Jack Vance style science fantasy, or if you're looking for something a bit quirky and light, then I recommend Majestrum.
I would like to have known more about Old Earth that is aeons in the future, The Ten Thousand human worlds, different human cultures.
Hughes takes a broader and incompatible view, that the swing from "linear rationalism" to "sympathetic association" and back is a periodic universal cycle which human civilization survived many times previously, and that the Earth's tremendous age and tattered condition is a unrelated progression.
John Harrison before him, has set his his science fiction world of Old Earth so far in the future the story feels more like fantasy.
Although I must admit, had I read this book first, my review of the other may have been better. It's a very different world, but I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in a different sort of adventure story with a complex but well-thought-out plot and highly developed characters.
The story follows Henghis Hapthorn, the most famous discriminator (think: Sherlock Holmes-like detective) on Old Earth. "Old Earth", because the story is set in a Jack Vance-like Dying Earth setting, millions of years into the future when the sun's become small and orange, mankind is spread across the Ten Thousand Worlds, and the rich and decadent aristocracy rules.
If you like authors like Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, detective stories, fantasy, dragons and magic and themes as interstellar travel, mind sharing and a impressively rich conceptualization a universe built a la Dying Earth, Urth or Majipoor then we can say that "Majestrum" is your thing or better put it is our thing.
He has made his living as a writer all of his adult life, first as a journalist in newspapers, then as a staff speechwriter to the Canadian Ministers of Justice and Environment, and, since 1979, as a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcocks, Asimovs, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Postscripts, Interzone, and a number of "Years Best" anthologies.