01/06/2012. Contributed by Richard Palmer
pub: TOR. 350 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $33.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-31441-X.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
Paul Park’s ‘ The Tourmaline’ is the second in a quadrilogy, following ‘ A Princess of Roumania’. I have read novels out of order in series and not found my enjoyment of understanding of the world created diminished. I wouldn’t recommend attempting to read ‘ The Tourmaline’ without having read ‘ A Princess of Roumania’ first.
The first novel features Miranda Popescu, a teen-ager growing up in present day Massachusetts. We learn that what we consider the real world is a fantasy created by Miranda’s aunt, a Roumanian sorceress, in order for her to rescue the, to them, real Roumania from the aggression of Germany.
‘ The Tourmaline’ finds Miranda back in her home following the destruction, by her aunt’s enemy, the Baroness Ceausescu, of the magic book which kept her in our world. Ceausescu is the leader of a puppet government since the invasion by Germany. Miranda’s destiny is to be ‘ The White Tyger’, the saviour of Roumania.
She is joined by two of her friends from Massachusetts, Andromeda, who is a dog and a man in the alternate world of the novel, and Peter Gross, who is a man, Pieter de Graz.
In the first novel, Miranda seemed swept along by events. There was always the feeling she was being manipulated by her aunt her ends. The follow-up makes Miranda a little more satisfying as a character. Though she is still compelled to fulfil a destiny, she begins to react a little more to what is asked of her and we have a better sense of Miranda’s agency.
The Europe of Park’s novel is one where magic is real, though banned and frowned upon in polite society. Despite this, many people practise magic to gain further power. Baroness Ceausescu is in possession of the titular tourmaline, a jewel taken from the skull of Kepler, who in this world had been a powerful magician. The tourmaline allows the Baroness to make those around her love her, a powerful weapon for one in her position.
Though this is a fantastical alternate world, Park doesn’t spend a great deal of time fleshing this out. There are differences, for example that Europe has a lower level of technology than we would recognise and England has been destroyed in a series of earthquakes and more. This world-building is subtle and the reader never feels over-burdened with detail. The society and its beliefs are evoked through incidental detail, rather than a series of wordy info-dumps. Miranda’s place in the world is given further importance when it is hinted that she may be a descendant of Christ who escaped crucifixion and went on to father a child.
Much as the first novel, there isn’t any resolution and it does pretty much stop dead, not unexpected as it is in the middle of a series. This does make Miranda’s quest feel a little go-nowhere. I do look forward to the next in the series, however, and will be reading it very soon.
The real joy in this novel is the characterisation. Miranda grows into her role as the saviour of Roumania. Though this destiny is clearly an important one, she is often not keen on the role in which she has been cast.
More interesting is that of Baroness Ceausescu, who does some terrible things in her attempts to grow her power but she is clearly conflicted about what she is doing. Her doubts are raised in her own mind, rather than spoken to others in an attempt to gain sympathy from those around her. The Baroness, who is also writing an opera titled ‘ The White Tyger’, is the villain of the piece but she never descends into cartoonish villainy. Indeed, she believes she is doing the right thing.
Furthermore, she is often vulnerable and close to death on at least one occasion. This might seem minor, after all one would expect the villain to get their comeuppance. However, assuming it comes, I hope it will seem natural and will be believable. If a villain is presented as all-powerful, only to be defeated after a string of triumphs, the heroes besting of them will often be unsatisfying and seem like authorial sleight of hand.
I recommend this book highly, though I do suggest you read the first book in the series before commencing this.
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