02/03/2009. Contributed by Sue Stewart
pub: Bantam Spectra. 342 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-58876-1.
check out websites: www.bantamdell.com and www.patriciabray.com
In one of the farthest reaches of a kingdom called Ikaria, a scholar-monk named Josan tends a lighthouse. Although there is a fishing village nearby, Josan is not a member of it. He wasn't even before he became a monk. The question of why Josan is tending a giant lamp in such a distant outpost instead of being scholarly in the great monastery in the capital is at the heart of this story.
Meanwhile, Lady Ysobel Flordelis, a young woman from the neighbouring kingdom of Seddon, has secured an appointment at the Ikarian court as Seddon's trade liaison. Her appointment is disconcerting to the staidly patriarchal Ikarians, but she is made relatively welcome - the Ikarians are ruled by a Queen, after all. What the Ikarians don't realise is that Ysobel's task is to promote revolution, not just trade. Her job is to re-ignite ambitions and plots that their Queen has brutally repressed.
On her way to take up her post, Ysobel's ship is blown off course in a storm and she meets Josan, though neither of them gives their encounter much thought. Not at the time. Of course, that will change later.
I really enjoyed this book. It's a historical/thriller/mystery/fantasy sort of deal and you get plenty of plot for your money. Lady Ysobel's quick wits and sneaky plans contrast well with Josan's integrity and his bewilderment as events unfold, events which usually catapult him into situations he has no experience of and can imagine no reason for.
I can't say too much as Patricia Bray is very careful to feed information in a little at a time, so I don't want to give the story away but I went along with it quite happily. I did see the truth of the matter some time before Josan did, but that's one of the paradoxes of this kind of writing. The author has to give enough information to keep the reader interested, but can't let the characters see or understand too much.
It's difficult to do that without making your protagonists look stupid, as if their only purpose is to look baffled while someone outwits them, but Patricia Bray avoids that. Josan may have led a sheltered life and illness may have blunted the formidable intellect he once had, but he's not callow and he's no idiot. You feel some sympathy for him, too. There he is, obediently minding his own business on a lighthouse at the edge of the world when suddenly it turns into Castle Perilous.
Once he begins to spot the clues, things do seem to get a bit bogged down but I was never given chance to really lose patience with him. Whenever I was on the verge of it, Patricia Bray would switch to the next part of Lady Ysobel's story and she'd do something clever or sneaky to distract me.
If there is a fault to find, it's that Josan didn't fully engage my feelings. I'm curious about him but there's a coolness to his personality that kept me at a distance. Possibly he's too good a monk - in the sense of being successful at controlling his feelings, not being sickeningly sweet. Lady Ysobel, too, conceals her emotions well - albeit for entirely different reasons. I was shown what's going on behind the masks they present to the world, but I did tend to find myself observing rather than sharing their troubles.
It's not a major fault, though. The whole cast of characters is well realised, the world is vivid and the dangers Josan faces are not trivial. I want to know what happens next, but as this is the first book of a trilogy I'll have to read the next book to find out. Luckily, that's a prospect I don't mind at all.
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