The Hymn of the Pearl by Brian Niemeier is a fantasy novella with an interesting premise. The concept of palmistry (or “chieromancy” to be fancy) is an ancient one, the idea of reading someone’s fate from their palm. Hymn of the Pearl takes the concept to the next level, with chieromancers actually able to alter or change someone’s destiny by altering the invisible lines of fate extending from their hand.
Since fate is real in this setting, that means that the guilt of an immoral act inevitably invites misfortune. A chieromancer can take that guilt, and its inevitable misfortune, and transfer the guilt to someone else, preferably a livestock animal. It’s a rather more direct and practical application of the ancient idea of offering an animal sacrifice to appease the gods.
Previously, this practice belonged solely to a religious order called the Advocates. However, the Advocates were overthrown by another order called the Arbiters, who believe that fate was simply another science and pursued it without a religious lens. The Arbiters took a more commercial approach, changing fates and reassigning destinies for the highest bidder.
Into this setting comes Soter, the last of the Advocates. The fall of the Advocates cursed Soter so severely that he is a walking vortex of misfortune – if he travels on a ship, it will sink or undergo pirate attack, if he’s thrown in prison, the prison will burn down. The curse also makes Soter effectively immortal so he remains alive to enjoy his torments fully.
However, some of Soter’s former friends have realized the nature of his curse, and want to use him as a weapon to win a war, despite Soter’s warnings that it’s going to backfire horribly. Worse, something ancient and evil has noticed Soter’s curse, and has its own ideas about what to do with him…
It’s a really interesting theological and mythological idea, and I enjoyed reading The Hymn of the Pearl. The novella does use a lot of invented terms, but fortunately there is an excellent glossary in the back. (One of the nice things about ebooks – no need to watch printing costs.) The only thing I would change is the cover art, since it doesn’t say “high fantasy novella” but instead says “Penguin Classics Edition of some Roman poet or another”. That said, I cannot judge a writer for using public-domain art for cover art, since I have done it myself many, many times.