Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gentle, Mary

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

(1956-    ) UK writer well known for her sf, but who has spent most of her career writing fantasy, including her first novel, the YA A Hawk in Silver (1977; rev 1985 US). Within a Polder in southern England lives in exile a remnant of the folk of Atlantis; to humans they manifest themselves as denizens of Faerie. A group of adolescents interacts with them. There is nothing in the tale to indicate that MG would not continue with further books of the same sort.

After the Orthe sf sequence – Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987) – she moved on to a very much more challenging kind of fantasy, the White Crow sequence: Rats and Gargoyles (1990), The Architecture of Desire (1991) and the main story in Left to His Own Devices (coll 1994), plus two of the stories assembled in Scholars and Soldiers (coll 1989). Most of Rats and Gargoyles takes place in the "city called the heart of the world" in an Alternate Reality where giant rats (see Mice and Rats) are dominant, and which is governed by a committee-like Pantheon of Gods, 36 in number. The main characters are human, including the female Magus and soldier White Crow, and they become involved in a subterranean human plot to overturn the rule of the rats; but the central interest of the novel lies in its use of hermetic principles – mainly the thesis of correspondence (see As Above, So Below; Microcosm/Macrocosm) according to which each part of the Universe corresponds with every other part, when properly ordered so as to reveal the correspondence. In the novel, Lord Architect Casaubon's Garden and Labyrinths work both to facilitate understanding of the Universe and to manifest the harmony of that Universe. "Beggars in Satin" and "The Knot Garden", from Scholars and Soldiers, address the same problems of attaining conjunction.

The Architecture of Desire is set in an Alternate-World version of Civil War England, where White Crow (see Temporal Adventuress) operates as a physician. While Casaubon (here and now her husband) attempts to understand the metaphysical corruption which prevents the construction of a temple in London, White Crow rapes a young woman who is in her medical care. The woman suicides, and the fantasy turns into a tragedy whose implications savagely question the Heroic-Fantasy sang-froid of the heroine. The title novella of Left to His Own Devices carries White Crow and Casaubon into a Technofantasy near-future London where Chaos is increasing. Underlying the tale, and much of the sequence as a whole, are quotes and echoes from, and imitations of, Jacobean drama. The sense of exorbitant unreality thus generated works as a counter to the densely felt texture of MG's scene-setting; and may well consciously operate to free both readers and protagonists from any undue adherence to any one world. The White Crow sequence may have ended; but because its various worlds very much resemble a Multiverse, no narrative terminus can be seen as final.

MG's only other sustained fantasy, Grunts ! (1992), is an extended spoof of various conventions, within and without the field, treating the Last Battle typical of Genre Fantasy from the viewpoint of the orcs who serve on the "wrong" side. With Roz Kaveney, and with the help of Neil Gaiman, MG edited and contributed to three Shared World anthologies: The WeerdeThe Weerde: Book 1 * (anth 1992) and The Weerde II * (anth 1993), the latter also with Alex Stewart – and Villains! * (anth 1992). The first follows a Pariah Elite of alien Shapeshifters in various adventures through history; the second takes the side of the Villains in genre fantasy.

MG is a writer of violence: her style is muscular and thrusting; her conclusions tend to be dangerous; and her stories are never comfortable. [JC]

Mary Rosalyn Gentle


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.