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Conqueror's Moon
Julian May
HarperCollins, 502 pages

Dominic Harman
Conqueror's Moon
Julian May
Julian May was born in 1931. Her first story, "Dune Roller," was published in the early 50s. The author then wrote non-fiction and children's books before bursting onto the fantasy scene with the Saga of Pliocene Exile (The Many-Coloured Land, The Golden Torc, The Non-Born King and The Adversary). She resides in Seattle.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer


"Why Provoke trouble in piddling small ways, when one has the potential to bring a grand firestorm that will rock a kingdom? Why not stir my sluggish passions by reliving the old dangerous life I loved?

I shall write it all down. At the end, if God wills that I finish, I'll return to the island and publish the story myself. It will be supremely gratifying to revel in the ensuing scandal. Why should I care then if my reward is a sharp blade belonging to an agent of the Cathran throne, cutting my scrawny throat?

Highborn or low, the people of High Blenhome would all know who I am at last."

When we first meet him, he calls himself by his given name, Deveron Austrey, but soon he will tell us how he earned another name, and a title. When we first speak to him, he is an old man, bored, realizing that his exile from his homeland will soon be ended by an assassin sent to make sure his blood is what is spilled, not the royal secrets to which he is witness. So, as we read above, he has decided to take another option. He has decided to write about all he knows, beginning with Prince Heritor Conrig Wincantor and his desire to re-conquer the four island provinces once ruled by his own line. Conrig is willing to do anything to reach this goal. He and Princess Ullanoth of Moss province have formed an alliance, and she uses a dangerous magic in order to help him, one that is as capricious as the winds, and one that may ruin, not help, their plans.

And so the story begins. After Snudge introduces his intentions and himself to the readers, the book shifts from first person to third, as we follow Conrig on his road to reuniting the four provinces. There are politics galore as Conrig, who loves his ailing father but understands he won't be with them much longer, tries to solidify his position so that he can take over and work on his goals in earnest. His father isn't convinced that this conquest is truly the best thing. Even though Conrig does a very good job justifying this to his father as well as the reader, neither of us are completely convinced that what he's doing will really help his people. There is only one province, really, that's willing to fight, and we can't help but feel badly for them. Who would want to give up their self-reliance to sign anyone's Edict of Sovereignty, no matter how convincing he is?

When, even on Conqueror's Moon's dust jacket a book proclaims "Magic Always Has Its Price," you know that the magic system has to be pretty strong and innovative and Julian May's certainly is that. On the island, anyone with a talent (aka magical ability), no matter how minor, is taken away and placed in a monastery. Even Prince Conrig's older brother, who once would have been King instead, is taken and trained in the ways of windwatchers who can see things happening and windvoices who can communicate over great distances. Snudge gains his post as Royal Intelligencer through the fact that he can't be windwatched. So he is invisible to anyone with a talent, which allows him to be the perfect spy. It's interesting to see how the talents manifest themselves in people, for there are a lot of different things people, including Snudge, can do, and how these talents are used in the story is rather neat. The fact that he can hide from common folk and people of medium talent, and the fact he can't be scried is something that really makes for some interesting story points. He can't be spied upon, so he can do anything his prince asks of him. But he can't be watched over either, a fact that vexes the Prince's older brother, who ends up being one of his strongest supporters, because he'd like to be able to watch Snudge's back once in awhile. Also, he doesn't exactly trust Snudge, though over time their relationship develops well, he has a hard time accepting the fact that he, a very powerful talent, can't peek in on this wild, untrained talent, and that Snudge seems to regard his talent informally, the way we would consider the fact we can wiggle our ears. Also, the prince doesn't want anyone to know Snudge has any talent at all. Not just because they'd take him away, but because that makes him even more valuable. No one can see him, and no one wants to. He doesn't always need to use his talent to hide, he uses the fact that he's a nobody -- a footman -- to hide in plain sight.

The other magical system is based on sigils, Alchemy, and the Beaconfolk. It is the sorcery that Ullanoth practices. The Beaconfolk are bright lights in the sky, creatures whose natures are impenetrable, and whose magic should never be tapped, some would say, even to the direst need. I particularly like the fact that anyone can pretty much take a sigil, once a spell is made, it's completely transportable, even stealable, allowing people with only small amounts of talent to use them. If, of course, they have the passwords to use them. Otherwise the Beaconfolk will come and kill them.

Conqueror's Moon begins the series very well. There is a lot of intrigue and battling, espionage and magic. There are also a few twists that insure the events of the book, what Conrig eventually gains, will extract a heavy price in later books. I'll be interested in seeing how things unfold, and how the events impact the future. I'm especially eager to hear more of Snudge. The other characters are strong, sometimes likable, sometimes not, but it is Snudge who, even off stage, is the most engaging of characters. May has truly kicked off a nifty new series.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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