Jane Routley
Mage Heart
Avon Books 1996

Being a talented mage student is not necessarily a good thing. Not if you're a woman in a country where all magic but healing is considered the business of men. When an employment opening appears for young Dion, the Dean of the College of Magics suggests she should take it. Even though both he and Dion and other people at the College would prefer not to collaborate with the employer - Kitten Avignon. In Gallia, courtisans and prostitutes are commonplace, and Mistress Avignon is the most well-known of them. Beautiful, intelligent and educated, she has become the Duke's favourite mistress. Known as the Lady of Roses, she is also immensely popular among the poor, partly because of her being a patron for humanitarian projects. But she is still a whore - and what respectable person would risk being associated with such a woman?

Now she needs protection, as she is being threatened by a strong magician from the twin empires of the west. Dion agrees to do it, hoping she won't have to meet the other woman more than occasionally. But when there is an assassination attempt against Dion in the College itself, something must be done. Unwillingly, Dion moves into Mistress Avignon's well-protected house, and step by step is drawn into the life of Gallia's rich and famous.

"Mage Heart" is a clever one-piece novel set in an early Enlightenment world, like Europe in the days of Descartes and Pascal. Gallia - anyone who comes to think of France? - is a country with a reputation of easy living, but also the home of the New Learning, the science movement threatening magic as well as the Church. Dion's home country, Moria, is famous for its fanatical religious movements, like a mix of post-Moorish Spain and modern-day Iran. The reason why Dion lives in Gallia is that magic has been banned in Moria, mages persecuted and burned as witches. After that, there has been a schism within the Burning Light movement, and now crowds of Morian fanatics is destabilizing Gallia. Other countries worth mentioning are the twin empires of Aramaya and Sopria, the home of civilization as far as people on the Peninsula, the continent where Gallia and Moria are situated, are concerned. They play an important part in the current court intrigues, because they are looking for allies in their ever-lasting war against each other, and because of Mistress Avignon's mysterious past coming back at her. The empires have no close equivalent in our world, but Ms Routley has chosen to give the Aramayan characters Russian names - and maybe because of that, the lives of their nobles make me think of the court life in the days of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. But the West has never looked to Russia for cultural inspiration, have they? Most of the time it's been the other way around. Anyway, I think the cultural and historical setting is really exciting, and very well done. The different sects within the Church are really interesting, as is the rivalry between the mages and the priests.

I like the magic, too. It's quite conservative fantasy magic, with spells and rituals and stuff. But I really like the idea of Colleges where magic is taught, and I think Ms Routley's demonology is just great. Demons are, in that world, super-natural beings living in a world of their own but longing for our world to still their insatiable hunger. They are not really evil, but still forces of chaos, when they aren't controlled by a warlock. An inventive and entertaining use of an old concept.

Quite obviously targetted at a female market, I'm not quite sure I should like this book. But I do. I almost couldn't put it away once I had started reading it. Sometimes Ms Routley gets a little preachy, slowing down the story just to show how stupid many of Dion's prejudices are. Prejudices shared not only by her fellow Morians but also by many ordinary late 20th century Westerners. I'm not quite impressed by the author's agenda, but I'm most certainly impressed by her novel. It's great.

Karl Henriksson

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Books by the same author:
Fire Angels

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1997.