1/09/2011. Contributed by Vikki Green
Emissary (Percheron: Book Two) by Fiona McIntosh. pub: Orbit. 561 page paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-461-6) .
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.fionamcintosh.com
‘Emissary’ is the second volume of Fiona McIntosh's ‘Percheron’ series. I have to say I was grateful there was not as much of the graphic violence that characterised some scenes in the first book, ‘Odalisque’. It was why it took me so long to open this volume. This segment of the ‘Percheron Trilogy’ concentrates on the place of palace intrigue when faced with the threat of all out war. It also brings Maliz's character more to the fore. He is an intriguing character who seems to be enjoying himself as the Zar Boaz's Vizier.
Herezah, the Valide and Boaz's mother, and her sidekick, Salmeo the Chief Eunuch, both realise Boaz will choose Ana, the odalisque, for his chief wife. Both see her as a threat to their authority over Boaz's harem and conspire to remove her. Herezah had spent most of her married life making sure her son acceded the throne, when he did she ensured there was no opposition left to challenge her authority. Her triumph was short-lived when the new Zar's Harem is collected. They realise from the start that Ana will not be cowed. In ‘Emissary’, they play to Ana's weakness, namely that she cannot stand the Harem and its cloistered life, to remove her once and for all. However, their scheme is rendered impotent by forces from the outside.
Lazar, the Spur of Percheron's hidden identity as Lucien heir to the Gallisean throne is revealed and his 'death' in ‘Odalisque’ results in the neighbouring kingdom of Galinsea declaring war on Percheron. However, the Galinsean delegation's presence in Percheron results in Lazar coming forward and revealing himself to Boaz. The ambassadors are satisfied that Lazar/Lucien is alive. However, there is a fleet preparing to leave Gallinsea and they fear they will return too late to stop it. Lazar suggests the embassy crosses the desert between the two realms as that will save a good deal of time and effort. The problem being that none of the Percherese court speak Gallinsean, apart from Ana.
Herezah and Salmeo's plot to kill Ana is averted in time. Boaz is disgusted with his mother, it is at this point she begins to realise there is more to the world than the Harem and ruling it absolutely. Ana is married to Boaz, in part to protect her from Salmeo and Herezah's malice. Boaz also sends Herezah with the embassy, much to her disgust.
In the meantime, the undercurrent of the battle between the goddess Lyana and Maliz is gaining momentum. Maliz is on the track of identifying Iridor, but not Lyana. Lazar is the unknown quantity in the coming battle, yet he is compromised by his long illness, scepticism over the coming battle, his loyalties to Percheron and his love for Ana. Throughout, he is forced into decisions that leave him in turmoil.
The story ends on a cliff-hanger, with a completely new element thrown into the equation.
‘Emissary’ is less bloodthirsty than ‘Odalisque’, being more an exploration of the main characters, their ability to adapt to new circumstances and their motivations. It is also an effective portrayal of politics and the corruption of absolute power. Even if the realm concerned is a minute part of Percheron. Herezah's corruption by the politics of the Harem is balanced when she finds previously unknown depths of resilience and wisdom in the journey across the desert. It is the threat of the complete destruction of everything she has come to treasure that brings Herezah around from her view that absolute control of the Harem is the be-all and end-all of her existence. It forces her to recognise the world around her and that the city of Percheron's people are also a part of her world. Their destruction is her destruction. It is interesting watching her character mature in the last third of the book, a maturation I hope will continue.
Lazar's conflict between his love of Ana and his loyalty to Boaz become more and more conflicted as the story continues until he is faced with an almost impossible choice between his heart and duty. Maliz is developed more and becomes a complex and sometimes likeable villain. The true threat he poses to Percheron and its people slowly becomes clear and it is more chilling, because of Maliz's overtly civilised nature. There is absolutely no doubt that he is evil.
‘Emissary’ was an engrossing read, at some points heart-rending. All the questions raised in ‘Odalisque’ are answered, but not quite as I expected. No one is quite who I expected them to be. I'm looking forward to ‘Book Three: Goddess’, to see how different from ‘Emissary’ it will be and whether the characters are who I think they are. The only thing certain is that the outcome will be unexpected.
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