01/12/2008. Contributed by Sue Stewart
Pub: Five Star/Gale, Cengage Learning. 273 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59414-707-4.
check out websites: www.gale.cengage.com/fivestar and http://members.iinet.net.au/~sakelso/
Before I begin the review proper, it's only fair to say that I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy. I love fantasy novels. I hate the way that they are presented. I especially hate the blurbs.
I know that most people like them. They like the hint of what to expect. Let's call it a failing of mine that I don't. Even good blurbs invariably evoke a sinking feeling of, 'Oh no, not that again,' in me, as do many fantasy titles. Nine times out of ten, fantasy cover art leaves me cold, too.
All of which goes to show not only that I'm very picky, but also that in the business of publishing, marketing is a very hit-and-miss affair. It's lucky for me that there is such a thing as word-of-mouth and someone suggested that I might enjoy Sylvia Kelso's work because I was able to ignore the blurb (which I didn't like) and just read the book. My suggestion was right. I did enjoy it. Very much indeed.
In deference to the huge majority of readers who are not like me, however, and don't want to pick up a book absolutely blind, here is a blurb-type taster:
Sellithar is the female heir to the throne of the small kingdom of Everran is frustrated with the countless moribund traditions of life at court. Aged just eighteen, Sellithar inherits her father's throne but doesn't get chance to make the radical changes she dreams of and her perceived weakness brings her kingdom under threat.
In desperation, she seeks answers in the desert of Hethria where kings of Everran have sought help before. To her amazement, she finds the legends she never really believed are based on truth. Sellithar finds an unexpected ally, Zam, an aedr or wizard with powers that she can only dream of. Unfortunately, he's a source of infuriation and misunderstanding as much as help and she finds out the hard way that things rarely go according to plan.
I should also mention that Sellithar is the only narrator. Many people don't like first person narration on principle, but I'm not one of them. Its advantages are clear, it lends itself to understanding, immediacy and intimacy. Of course, they're also its disadvantages if you're not interested in those things, but to me the only problem with first person narration is the obvious one. One person can't be everywhere.
We see what effect making magic has on Zam through Sellithar's eyes. As that's something we don't normally see, it's good. Sadly, Zam then has to tell Sellithar about the magic he performed and we miss the action. Just a glimpse or two of what was happening from another point of view, someone on the opposing side and in the thick of the magic's effects would have helped inject some variety and given the story a wider scope.
Having said that, blow-by-blow descriptions of battle scenes or the political intrigues of a cast of thousands aren't Sylvia Kelso's main strengths or her main concerns. Her love is for the landscape and expressing the feelings of her characters. She shows Sellithar so clearly that even when you want to kill her, even when you're thinking, 'Why are you doing that? Are you mad?' you're inclined to indulge her. From the moment I read her words in the opening paragraph, 'Had I been capable of speech on my name-day, my parents would never have succeeded in calling me Sellithar', I liked her. Winding up the paragraph with the revelation that the palace brats always called her 'Silly-cow' made me like her even more.
I continued to like her, too, in spite of her flaws. I did occasionally feel that situations were set up just so Sellithar could object to them and she does have a tendency to about-face in her judgements, but perhaps that was me getting picky and tired. Well, I was reading this until the early hours of the morning on a couple of nights. I was enjoying Sellithar's arguments with the aedr too much to stop.
This is a lovely book and you can take from it what you will. If you want a love story, it can be that. If you want an examination of the trials of growing up, it has those, too. Considerations of what it means to be a young leader in uncertain times? You got it. The difficulty of reconciling what you want with what you need? That, too. The possibility that you will destroy the thing that you love most? Oh yes. Sylvia Kelso gives us all that and also writes about the desert of Hethria with vividness and familiarity, expressing an adoration of the strange and often hostile environment that her narrator comes to share.
I don't know whether 'The Red Country' is intended to be the final book of 'The Rihannar Chronicles' because there seems to be plenty left to explore. Personally, I hope the exploration continues. In the meantime, I suppose I'll just have to go back to the beginning and find out what I've missed:-
Book 1 of the Rihannar Chronicles: Everran's Bane
Book 2 of the Rihannar Chronicles: The Moving Water.
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