Alain was promised to a monestary, but it was razed by the terrible Eika-warriors of the north. On that night, Alain was shown a vision of the raid by the Lady of Battles, who also promised him to become a fighting man. Which was quite exactly what young, godly Alain had wished for. Soon after, he was enrolled into Count Lavastine's army, where his unusual ability with the Count's fearsome dog pack quickly gave him a place. There he is, not unimportant but feared and looked down on by the rest of the Count's men, when the action begins.
Liath grew up on the run, mostly. Since her mother died, her father had lived a travelling life, staying only for a short while in each place, always trying to escape some terrible danger he never told Liath about. But she could be quite sure it had something to do with magic. Then, one day, the danger caught up with them, and her father died. He left her with no money and quite a lot of debts. His books was taken by Father Hugh, the village churchman whose interest in forbidden magic had made him one of Liath's father's closest friends. Only "The Book of Secrets" she managed to hide away before she was auctioned away as a slave to pay off her father's debts. And the only one who could pay the price was Father Hugh. A man who wants her body, but even more her secrets and her powers. A man she must escape from - if she wants to survive.
These personal stories are woven together in the grander theme of political struggle. Two kingdoms, Wendar and Varre, are ruled by one king, Henry. His sister Sabella starts an uprising among Varrean lords, with some magical help, to become the ruler of Varre herself. But beyond this intrigue, there are hints of another, darker one. What powers are searching for Liath? What are happening in the circles of stone? And what role will the King's half-elven bastard son Prince Sanglant - the King's Dragon - play?
Think about a magical Germany one-hundred years after the death of Charlemagne and you're on the right track. A world where the church is a powerful force, but noble family ties are even more important. A time when nations are carved out of political struggles, and the wrath of the Northmen are far more terrible than it ever was in our world. Combine this with believable and interesting characters, nicely interlaced magical elements and good writing and you get a very good book, the promising start of a new series in the heroic fantasy tradition. When I read a book like this, I can't help thinking that this is a great age for fantasy lovers. In the wake of writers like Robert Jordan and Tad Williams, dozens of writers are taking new steps forward, exploring new historical situations, inducing character depth and human drama into a genre once concentrating on magical wonders and sword-fighting. Alain and Liath very much remind me of people I know and care about, which gives the book yet another dimension, underlining the impression that this is real, the suspense of disbelief I find so essential in good fantasy writing.
When I start reading a book like this, I always ask myself one question: Does the world really need yet another heroic fantasy epic. The answer when I'd finished this one was clear: Yes, and I need more of the same right now!
Books by the same author:
Prince of Dogs (volume 2)
The Burning Stone (volume 3)
The Golden Key (w/ Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson)
Kate Elliott's personal home page
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