||A very deep character study, in a
complex and very well-defined world, this book was a joy to read.
As with some other fantasy worlds, most
notably the world of the Darksword, this one is familiar with our
current, high-technology world. A thousand years ago, there was a
"split", which forced the lands of mindpower (magic) and handpower
(technology) into different worlds. In order to maintain the superiority
of mindpower over that of the hand, that world became a very strict,
Nineteen-eighty-four type of place, with harsh rules applied to everyday
life, and ruthless enforcers to make sure people stayed within the
Limits. All people with magical ability were put through school, and
some became Guardians, a superior race that was able to guide and teach
the unGifted. However, when times became difficult, the Guardians
usually abandoned those under their authority to plagues and sicknesses.
That is where Bron comes in. The first
part of the book shows us how harsh the world is to those without
magical powers. Bron and his family are a diverse group. I agreed with
his brother Serle, of course, about building a better plough. The others
had personalities in their own right, which made it very difficult even
on the reader when they died, either from the plague or from the angry
villagers. For the secret that Bron carries inside him makes him an
enemy to the powers that govern the world. Long before the split, it was
his family that cared for the magical Stone, which seems to hold extreme
power within itself, but what it actually represents, besides the "soul
of the world", is quite vague. An evil man made war on his ancestors,
killed them all (except for a baby who survived), and stole the Stone.
When the split occurred, he helped establish the order of the world,
which has not really changed since then. Bron's family has vowed to
retake the Stone when one of great power is born to them. Bron's brother is
taken by the Arm of the Stone to be Interrogated and publicly
humiliated. Bron, however, using a power he didn't know he had, stops
time and frees his brother, causing a chain reaction which leads to the
death of everyone in his village.
It was necessary for Bron to lose all
of his loved ones and everything he considered dear, before his power
could be developed. By then, there was nothing left to be taken from
him. I do object to the quick way Bron learned to control his Gift,
however. One moment it is too powerful to control, and the next, he can
channel it easily. Everybody else has to be trained in their Gifts. Bron
should not be an exception, even if he is a saviour.
What I particularly liked about this
book was the way we were able to get inside Bron's mind, and later,
Liliane's. There was very little dialog through the book. This is
fortunate, because when people spoke, even -especially- the ones with "superior
intellects", the dialog was rather simplistic. The narrative, however,
was very engaging. Descriptions were not overly detailed, but
descriptions of emotions were amazingly depicted. The only part of the
narrative I didn't like was the recitation of prayers and choruses.
These gave us insights into the world, but I'm sure they could have been
done another way, as it became tedious.
Liliane is the main character in the
second part of the book. We know that Bron has vowed to destroy the Arm
of the Stone, and that he will likely try to do this by becoming a
Guardian. However, we don't get to see his Novice years. Instead,
Liliane shows us what the Novice years are like. We can assume that
Bron's time in the Novice wing would be quite similar. Liliane had to
endure hazing rituals and unexplained punishments, something we know
that with Bron's anger he would have difficulty doing. While Liliane
survived her Novice years by retreating inside herself, Bron was more
like Goldwine, who rebelled against all this unfair treatment. They
couldn't accept these things as simply Tests of their Guardianship. As
with Bron, I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Liliane, and was sorry
to see her disappear from the tale for a long time.
When we rejoin Bron in the following
section, he has graduated to become an Apprentice as a Journeyer, and is
immediately picked to become part of the Arm of the Stone. He found this
to be an ideal place from which to carry out his vow, but as the years
progress, he finds his lifestyle and mindset changing with his
experience and maturity. All he ever knew was vengeance, but within his
special place in the Arm, he found companions, which he never had when
he was young, not even before his family was killed. He discovers,
however, that his Mentor is bent on changing the Arm of the Stone to
replace its barbaric torture and cruelty with guidance. It was the
cruelty that caused Bron to take up his vow in the first place, so
changing the Arm is more-or-less the same as destroying it -in its
current form, anyway. Even still, the officers that he encountered in
his youth didn't seem to be corrupt, though the punishments were public
and extraordinarily harsh, given the crime. In his time with the Arm,
Bron realized that his brother was a Violator, and that his actions
could not be tolerated.
This section of the book was by far the
most interesting, as we see complete shifts in perspective from Bron. We
also come to understand why the Limits exist, and perhaps even to
sympathize with the Guardians in a way not thought possible by the end
of the first section. Although the Limits are very harsh, requiring
formal requests for change to even the most basic hand tools, they can
be easily explained by a very conservative culture. They were created as
a very reasonable countermeasure to the feared alternative, the
technological world that we live in. We first saw the Limits through
Bron's eyes as he was a victim of them, as unreasonable barriers to
progress, but then we move to another viewpoint: the Limits as barriers
to losing their souls. On the other hand, it also made life difficult
for everyday people. The world remained decidedly medieval, with
recreation available only to the rich, for the poorer people had no time
or energy for it. In other words, the world they live in was stagnant.
It also occurred to me during this
portion of the book that the Tale Bron had been taught in his youth
might be wrong. Perhaps his ancestor really was evil, as the official
History taught, and Percival actually did rescue the Stone. That would
have been interesting, but was not to be, although nothing definite
occurs to prove the Tale by the end, either.
We get a brief glimpse of Jolyon in
this section, a man who enjoys torture and the pain of others. He had
victimized both Bron and Liliane as Novices, and he continued to do so
with Liliane as an Apprentice. The man is very hateable, and the author
does a good job at showing us just how despicable he is. Jolyon gains
more power by becoming part of the Arm, as well.
As for Liliane, she graduated, and put
her Gift as a heartsenser to good use. However, in the fourth part of
the book, Jolyon assigns her to spy on Bron, who is known as Selwyn.
Selwyn took his Mentor's policies to greater levels, very quickly,
trying to change the Arm of the Stone within a few short years. This
gains him enemies within the Arm, ordinary Guardians, and unGifted, as well.
The general populace, however, liked the reforms that he was
implementing. His work was so good, however, that even Liliane, the best
heartsenser of her time, could not find any fault with him. Putting
aside her actual mission, I thought Liliane would actually like the new
way of the Arm, given that she was subject to its cruelty so often
earlier in her life.
When she can't find any Violation in
his ways, she uses another tact, which proves successful. She was told
to sleep with Selwyn if she had to, but instead, she falls in love with
him. She discovers, as does Selwyn, that studying somebody's every
nuance for so long creates an intimacy as well as more personal contact.
Selwyn studied her long and hard, as well, knowing that she was a spy. I
would think that given his suspicion, he must have certainly known about
her secret meetings to give her reports.
I didn't understand what kind of
Violation of the Paths of Thought Selwyn was guilty of. What is an
"unfit woman"? Somebody who was ungifted? Liliane must have believed
that the little bundle Selwyn carried out of the woman's house was a
stillborn baby, or else what?
While Liliane might have fallen in love
with Selwyn, and he with her, that changed when she found his workroom,
filled with Violations. For, as I guessed would happen, Bron rejoined
his brother in Britannia, to try and make power of the Mind and of the
Hand equal, to bring Balance to the world. After speaking with his
brother, he believed that the split occurred because the Hand became
more powerful than the Mind. Another split becomes inevitable, then,
because the Mind is so much more powerful than the Hand in this world.
She manages to trick him when he tries to erase her memory, and he is
arrested and brought back to the Fortress for punishment.
I think there was too much change
between the time when Bron agreed to join Marhalt's group of
conspirators, to his new conspiracy to bring Balance to Hand and Mind.
We didn't get to see it develop, as we should have. It was not enough to
see it in hindsight as told from Bron to Liliane. I didn't see enough
motivation. As it stands, Bron seems to me to be incapable of
maintaining a vow that he made. His vows became more complicated, and
because of that, everything he made was destroyed. In fact, the book
allowed so many years to pass between chapters that it sometimes felt
disjointed. It would have been nice to bridge those gaps more often.
The last section rushes us to the
climax of the book. It was nice to see the entire previous section
summarized from Bron's point of view, confirming a lot of what I
suspected. Aside from plot reasons, it is not made clear why Selwyn and
his Zosterians dropped the celibacy rule. Was the Arm founder not
celibate, as they modelled him in every way they could? I had been
wondering how Selwyn's lovers avoided becoming pregnant, as he had so
many. Those with magical power must be able to abort on their own (as
implied by Jolyon when talking about Liliane). Did Selwyn do it for the
ungifted women? He would have undoubtedly kept track of any heirs, as
after his brother is killed, he believes himself to be the last of his
family. It is never explained why Selwyn put a charm on the woman
Elene's name in the Catalogue. I'm guessing that he removed the
knowledge of her Gifted status, so she would not be brought to Guardian
school and discovered, as she was endowing Violation technology with
By the time Bron ends up in the jail
cell, and his powers have been curbed, I was really ready for a
Nineteen-eighty-four type of ending, with Bron failing at his task. I
was actually hoping for this, but with a twist that he continued to live
to instruct his child, or something like that. I would have liked him to
join Goldwine's bandits and force the change he needed to bring about.
Unfortunately, I found the last chapter
to be a little disappointing, because it was rushed compared to the
other developments in the book, and because Bron seemed to become way
too powerful. I felt that he should have had to struggle a little, and
to see the reactions of Jolyon and the Prior, for example. Instead, he
walks right into the garden of the Stone and steals it. According to
Goldwine's prophecy he will take it into our technological world through
a Gate, and they will eventually meet again. It's unfortunate that she
also predicts Liliane's death.
However, the book itself is very
engaging, even the last chapter. It is the plot development that I
object to, not the chapter itself, which was written with the same
amount of contemplation, wonder and detail as the rest of the book
(complete with the very common use of the word "toward"!).
The world felt very real, and the style
of writing was amazing. I like reading about what people said, as
opposed to reading the lines as spoken by the characters. Reading about
discussions gives them an emotional flavour that we can't get from simple
dialog. I very much look forward to the sequel.