|In Short:||31 pages of Aaaaaaah + 2 pages of AAAAAAH!!!|
|He couldn't be one of those damned elves she'd heard tales about once too often, could she? They were, from what she understood, full of magic, majesty, and themselves. She had decided when she'd been ten-and-three and quite empty of anything she considered desirable, that if there were ever creatures to loathe, it was elves.|
So often genre fiction challenges us,
demanding that we confront the most profound questions of human
existence: Are we alone in the universe? Does free will exist,
or are we but puppets on an invisible string, jerked about for
the amusement of Jacob on the Island
audiences unknown? What does it mean to be human, anyway?
But there are days when even we geeks don’t feel like being challenged. We want to fall into a story where we can relax in the knowledge that no beloved characters will die horribly (J.K. Rowling, I’m looking your way), nor will any horses (OH HAI Jennifer Roberson); that even the characters who do meet an untimely end will not be subjected to graphic quasi-medieval tortures (Katherine Kurtz, represent!); that in all likelihood the heroine will not be sexually violated (Roberson, honey, we really need to talk). We need a warm down quilt on a cold night, a dish of chicken pot pie, a mug of steaming hot chocolate laced with brandy and topped with whipped cream. It is no more a slam to describe such a book as “not challenging” than it is to compare thee to a summer’s day. And if what you need on this particular day is something lovely and temperate, you could do a lot worse than the Nine Kingdoms novels of Lynn Kurland.
The prolific Kurland has quite a few historical romances under her belt. (Diana Gabaldon fans, take note: Many of Kurland’s romances appear to follow the Outlander model involving a time-traveling protagonist running around the Highlands.) In the novels of the Nine Kingdoms, she turns her hand to pure romantic fantasy, replete with mages, witches, elves, and dragons. The first trilogy follows the adventures of Miach, archmage of the Kingdom of Neroche, and Morgan, who initially believes she is a simple (albeit unusually talented) shieldmaiden, but turns out to be a powerful mage in her own right, as well as the elven heiress of Tòrr Dòrainn. Morgan is also – crucially – the youngest child of the black mage Gair of Ceangail, who, some 20 years earlier, slew his entire family (or so it was widely believed) during an ill-advised attempt to open a well of evil and master its contents.
This well of evil, however, may not have been quite as deadly as advertised. In Kurland’s new novel, A Tapestry of Spells, we immediately learn that Morgan’s older brother Ruithneadh also made it out alive. After escaping from the well, Ruith fled through the forest, buried his magic so deep inside himself that it can’t be detected, and vowed that it would stay buried forever. Since then, he has carefully cultivated a reputation as a reclusive and ill-tempered mage whom the local villagers fear too much to actually ask for magical aid. (So, yeah, everybody thinks he has magic, which he does, even though he likes to pretend he doesn’t have magic. Look, it’s complicated.)
Meanwhile, the fetching Sarah, daughter of the local witch-woman, is plotting her escape from the nearby town of Doìre. Then her punk sorcerer brother Daniel announces his intention of destroying the world, steals all of her money, turns her horse into a dog, and flattens her house. Lacking any better ideas, Sarah recruits a reluctant Ruith to accompany her on a quest to stop Daniel before he can get up to too much mischief. When evidence begins to mount that Daniel may have managed to acquire some very potent magic indeed, the race is on to stop him before disaster befalls the entire Nine Kingdoms.
I loved this book, for the most part. Ruith and Sarah are both well-drawn and believable, with interesting histories and motivations. Neither one of them does anything particularly out of character or stupid. Their romance is sweet without being saccharine or pornographic (this is a book you can hand to your twelve-year-old with confidence). Kurland’s style is lively, even tongue-in-cheek at times, particularly when she’s recounting the deeds of the sinister Urchaid, whom Ruith and Sarah encounter on the road. (“He was almost as fond of a mystery as he was a decently fitting overcoat. But he was even more fond of a good meal…” –Believe me, in context, it’s really amusing.)
What didn’t I love? Well…continuity, thy name is not Lynn Kurland. First Sarah believes that Ruith is a powerful mage; then she believes that he has no magic at all. Fair enough; that’s Ruith’s story, and he’s certainly sticking to it. However, Sarah turns out to have a gift for perceiving magic, and Ruith eventually accesses his magic and begins to use it – a little here, a little there, and only in emergencies, but he quickly discovers that like a two-year-old, his magic, once released, isn’t easy to put back to bed. And Sarah, who perceives everyone else’s magic easily enough, never gets so much as a whiff of magic off Ruith.
But wait there’s more! Much is made in this book about Ruith’s boyhood friendship with Miach, who would later become archmage of Neroche. How odd, then, that Miach never once mentions Ruith throughout the 900+ pages of the first trilogy, not even to Morgan, Ruith’s sister, whom he (Miach) would certainly have known and remembered. Even more problematic is the character of Sgath, who is known to both Morgan and Ruith (I’ll leave it to you to discover the exact connection). Tapestry takes place around the same time as the first trilogy, which means that either Sgath knows that Morgan is alive when he encounters Ruith, or he knows that Ruith is alive when he encounters Morgan. Either way, you would think he would want to immediately inform either or both that a beloved sibling was, against all odds, still alive. But no – Sgath never breathes a word. Explain yourself, Sgath!
The good news is that Kurland has at least one more book (and I’m guessing two) in which to clear up these pesky continuity problems. And let’s face it – overthinking this book would be like overthinking a pizza. Better by far to allow yourself to enjoy it for what it is.
…And what is it? (I hear you ask.) Is it a delicious novel that qualifies as comfort food for the mind and heart and soul? Yes! – For the first 341 pages. But then! Then the book ends on a most awful cliffhanger. You, the reader, are not left smiling and relaxed; rather, your heart is pounding and you are wailing “Nooooo!” Worst of all, the sequel is not due out until January 2011. I shake my fist at you, Lynn Kurland! I must know what happens! How can I ever wait?
To spare you the mental anguish I am currently experiencing, I offer the interested reader this advice: Read the first three books (Star of the Morning, The Mage’s Daughter, and Princess of the Sword) now, if you haven’t already. Then, purchase A Tapestry of Spells as a Christmas gift to yourself. (Or Hanukkah, or Solstice, or Festivus, or, you know, however you roll.) That way, you’ll be able to pick up the sequel as soon as it drops, and you won’t have to wait ELEVEN LONG MONTHS to find out what happens, like SOME of us do.