|Gratuitous Lutheran joke complete.|
Let's set the scene first. We're in Europe (most of the time in England and Italy), but it's not like the Europe that you know. As we established before, this is an alt-history England. Science is not encouraged, and because of that we never got past the more dangerous early years of electricity, so everyone is still using gas lamps. Cars, trains and buses are in use but no airplanes. The lives of some famous people don't turn out how you thought either. Martin Luther becomes Pope Germanian, Thomas More becomes Pope Hardrian, Edgar Allen Poe is a famous American general....
The Catholic church is like a nation-state, hearkening back to the days of the Holy Roman Empire. There is still colonialism, a couple of emperors and viceroys, and it seems that anti-semitism is still in swing because the Jews are forced to wear yellow stars and stay only amongst themselves.
To sum up (TL;DR) Pope is boss, it's like living in 1770 Europe when it's really modern day. Good enough for you? Good enough for me. Let's get to stepping and talking about the actual plot of the book.
Hubert Anvil is a ten year old English boy with a beautiful soprano voice (because he's ten). He sings a beautiful solo at the funeral of King Stephen III and attracts a lot of attention.The higher ups in the church (including the Pope, who would be The Most High Up, I guess) decide they want to have him castrated ("altered") to preserve his beautiful voice forever. Does he get a say in it? Meh, not necessarily.
Hubert is torn. Being famous, being able to sing for famous people all the time, and everyone saying that this is an amazing blessing from God all sounds good. But he has qualms. Even at 10 he understands that this means no marriage, no family, and that his life will pretty much be devoted to his art. He tries to figure out if this is an even trade. Since he doesn't have any experience in the love and family department he asks different people if he will be missing a lot if he doesn't get to experience these things. His family chaplain tells him that the highest form of love is between a person and God. (Which is interesting because the priest is having an affair with Hubert's mom...) but he does everything he can to stop the procedure. He asks his brother if he will miss not being able to have sex, and his brother makes some kind of analogy about sex being like galloping through a field like a gazelle while eating your favorite ice cream and kissing a girl you REALLY like all at once.
He and his father are summoned to Rome for an audience with the Pope. The Pope asks him to be in his official choir,and that he basically will be it's star. Hubert is awe struck and agrees. However he and his father have a disconcerting encounter with an "altered" man where he rants and raves about how terrible it is to be altered and how people treat him like a freak. This freaks them both out to no end and that's when Hubert decides he can't just let this happen to him....
I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars, mainly because it's just sad. I think the concept is really interesting, and the people that help Hubert are good eggs. And it's pretty short.Also there's kind of a happy ending?
In other news, Kingsley Amis is the father to Martin Amis who is a famous novelist. On a far more interesting note, towards the end of his life he shared a house with his ex-wife and her new husband (her third). That's an understanding husband, me thinks!