Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Andre Norton
(1999, Harper Collins)

The forces of Good plot to subtly overthrow a rising Dark mage.


-- First reading (hardcover)
June 16th to 23rd, 2004


I had a lot of trouble coming up with a "catch" line for this book. What is written on the back cover doesn't describe the book, and in fact, if is completely wrong in a lot of what it says. However, I can't blame the writer of that blurb, because I still can't figure out what the book was about.

Spoiler review:

The description on the back cover begins with events that take place more than halfway through the book -because absolutely nothing happens in the first half!

The main character, an evil man named Irasmus, decides to take control of the people in a fair land. He learned wizardry in The Place of Learning, and when the Good Guys there find out what he plans, they do a lot of talking about how they can't do anything to stop him. Huh? Yeah, that's what I said, too.

There is a lot of talk about the past, about how the Wind was used as a weapon against evil that was ravaging the land, but that it didn't care if innocents were in the way of the evil it was wiping out, so a lot of good people died in that war. So a Covenant was brought into being, restricting them all, even the Wind. That doesn't explain why they couldn't use their magic to defeat the man. They are not forbidden to use their magic, as they use it to do many things, including spying on Irasmus.

For his part, Irasmus seems to be dealing with the devil. Parts of this book felt like the Forgotten Realms, as demons were summoned so easily. He uses them to dispatch the people in the fair land, who have the potential for talent, but refuse to learn magic. There were a couple of people who did Dream, however, and they received warnings, not that anybody did anything about it.

When Irasmus came, why didn't the people of Firthdun flee into the Forest? The Forest already discussed among its own kind that it would accept refugees, yet nobody tried until Irasmus put up some barriers against such escapees.

It seemed that the powers for good would wait too long to weave their magic, for they did more nothing as the book went along. If they had confronted Irasmus before he took the people of Styrmyr, they would have saved the people there a dozen years of slavery and death. As they waited and waited, I felt that Irasmus would grow too powerful for them to defeat.

Instead, it turned out that Irasmus was an idiot. After using his magic to force a young man to rape a distant cousin (even that wasn't clear upon first glance), he decides to wait until the baby is born, taking him as an apprentice. He spends thirteen years, then, doing nothing! Are we supposed to believe that he raised the child on his own? Ha! Fogar was taught lessons as he grew, but he refused to bend to the dark, somehow keeping his will secret from his master. I don't believe that, either. In all that time, I also want to know how the people of the land survived, since there was nothing left to grow after the first summer, let alone the following winter. But somehow they kept having babies and those children also grew up, without any sustenance to the land.

This book was very difficult to read, mainly because of the author's style. It seemed as if she was trying to write in an ancient style, but it came across too complicated. Worse, there were way too many people, lands, and demons with names like "she who had come", and "he who should not be named", and so on. Yuck.

The characters throughout were one-dimensional, or less. I never saw any motivation for Irasmus to make deals with the Dark, and we are never told why he turned out this way, really. None of the characters have any motivation, except what the story dictates to them. Nobody has a will of their own. Irasmus has everybody perform mindlessly, especially in his two attempts at breeding experiments. It is even implied that Irasmus might be manipulated by some other, but that thread is left hanging, even after the curious attack on the Forest by his demons, something that he suspects was authorized by another Being.

The second half of the book was marginally better in terms of storytelling, but there was still no point. I actually liked seeing Irasmus' plans backfire on him, like the spiral of stones (sabotaged by Fogar), and his chat with the gargoyle creature. I also enjoyed Fogar's thoughts; they were the most interesting part of the book, by far. His cousin Cerlyn also started being interesting, but never really went anywhere. I suppose Fogar and Cerlyn will be married when they are old enough.

The climax of the book, for what it is, bored me as much as the rest. Fogar has a twin sister, whom Irasmus knew nothing about. Growing up among the Forest people, Falice is as naive as they come. Yet the Wind teaches her everything about everything in a matter of months, so that she can ... well, she doesn't really do anything. She leads a group of Forest beasts to confront Irasmus, yet they don't do anything. Fogar and Cerlyn defeat the monster that Irasmus summons, as easily as the monster defeated Irasmus, and tossed him aside.

Then Falice gets swept off by the Wind, and becomes part of a higher being. Uh-huh. The villagers return to normal, and the Good Guys from The Place of Learning say that the world will never be the same. Why? Were other things happening that we weren't told about? Maybe they were more interesting.

What we got, however, were a bunch of boring people thinking about doing something about an incompetent evil man. It is implied that they used their power to create twins and a bunch of other things, but I didn't see how any of what they did mattered, except perhaps the tutoring of Cerlyn for a few hours in her cell (though somehow she got to know the study "very well by now" in that short stay). I never understood why the people of Styrmyr had to get themselves out of the mess, since they didn't get themselves into it, except by denying their power -which is their right.

Ah, well. I raced through this book as fast as I could, to get it over with. I cannot recommend it to anybody. Some of the description was interesting, and Fogar was by far the most interesting of the non-characters, but even those were barely above my threshold. Good-bye, book.


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