Paula Volsky
The Wolf of Winter
Bantam 1993

Rhazaulle. A strange country in the far north of the world, divided in two parts by mountains impassable for most of the year - in winter. A brutal country, but with one important rule: necromancy is absolutely forbidden. But as long as there is power in it, people will keep on practicing it. In the dark, in the nights. The results can be seen in an institution outside Rialsq, the capital: "spliffication". Drooling, babbling idiots, men and women who have tried the way of power but lost it. Still, some people will see them and say to themselves: "It won't happen to me. I will be cautious. I will stay within the limits."

Prince Varis, the Ulor's youngest brother, had once seen such an institution and vowed not to become like them - to stay away from necromancy. But when he, wounded by a society that thinks him a strange abomination, goes in a private exile in his castle - the family castle - in the mountains, finds sources of information on necromancy as well as an splifficated guide with a drug that makes the user very powerful, he cannot resist the temptation. With his new power he begins his way back to the centre of Rhazaullean society, skillfully making all other family members die or disappear.

Before he's got his hands on them, his niece Shalindra and nephew Cerrov disappear abroad. But, just as Varis knows, they are plotting to return. But how can one beat the strongest necromancer in the world? Shalindra has a natural ability for that - because she is very much like her uncle.

This is an interesting and somewhat troublesome novel for several reasons. First of all, we see quite a lot of the story through the eyes of Varis. Good and evil easily become distorted when seen from the evil perspective, making us - or at least me - unable to say "I'm not at all like that". Secondly, we abruptly change perspective after almost half the book, instead following Shalindra's life in exile. Thirdly, it's a strange and disturbing world, where the ending isn't necessarily happy, and if it is happy, then for whom? We can easily sympatize with both Varis and Shalindra, but could there ever be a happy ending with both of them still alive? But even though this is an interesting novel, and maybe Ms. Volsky's most creative, I don't consider it her best. Both Illusion and The Gates of Twilight are more rewarding, in my opinion, but then I tend to stick to the fantasy mainstream.

Karl Henriksson

Books by the same author:
The Gates of Twilight
The White Tribunal

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