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Changer
Jane Lindskold
Avon EOS Books, 499 pages

Changer
Jane Lindskold
Jane Lindskold has written a number of novels including The Pipes Of Orpheus, Smoke And Mirrors and When The Gods Are Silent. She collaborated with Roger Zelazny on Donnerjack and lived with him during the final year of his life.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

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The Athanor are immortal beings who have always been living among us. You may have met some of them, although you wouldn't know it, since many of them are shapeshifters. And the Changer is the oldest and wiliest of them all, able to take any shape he chooses.

Some of the Athanor who cannot take human form are tired of living in seclusion and feel that the human world is now ready to accept, if not welcome, the inclusion of non-human sentient magic-wielding immortal beings living amongst them. (Are they maybe just a little naïve?) Others want to take a more active role in the preservation of the earth's natural environment which is threatened by human short-sightedness.

The Changer, who has been around since the beginning of time, is aware that the only certainty is change itself. He has seen so many races of creature come to prominence and pass into extinction that he has no prejudices about any particular shape or race. In fact, for the past 50 years or so, he's been perfectly content to live as a coyote in the deserts of New Mexico.

Now, however, some mysterious person or persons have dragged the Changer into the disputes between King Arthur (yes, he's still alive and well and living in New Mexico, of all places) and the various Athanor factions by slaying the Changer's coyote mate and family. Changer, however, proves to be a difficult tool to attempt to wield, being dangerously unpredictable as both ally and foe.

Ok, that should be enough for you to decide whether or not it's the type of book for you. But is it a good story? Is it well written? Well, yes, for the most part. In fact, Changer made it onto my personal top 10 best SF and fantasy books of 1998. But there were a couple of things that bothered me about it.

The fact that the entire book is written in the present tense may be viewed as a literary device to suggest the immediacy of the action -- that it's all happening right now in the world we know. I hate to think of myself as a traditionalist, particularly with regard to literature, but the present tense use in Changer never ceased to annoy me. It might have, and maybe even should have, worked. But I was always nigglingly aware of it -- although I'm not sure why -- and it detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

Furthermore, I felt that the subplot of the ordinary human reporter who had stumbled onto the truth of the Athanor (probably the biggest story of the millennium) largely failed to live up to its potential. I wanted to see more of the reporter, and the friend he dragged along to take pictures, floundering in the magnitude of something way out of their league. Although this subplot was neatly tied up with some other loose ends, it seemed somehow unsatisfying -- perhaps a little too neat, and not fully explored. Or is that further exploration reserved for a sequel?

Despite my misgivings, I would nevertheless recommend this book to any fan of contemporary fantasy and comparative mythology. Interesting parallels are drawn between the various myths and pantheons and legends around the world, and explained via the eternal presence of the Athanor. The parallels aren't new, but the concept of the Athanor is interesting to contemplate and sparks all kinds of potentially fascinating lines of thought...

And more importantly, for a fantasy novel, the complex rules of how things work in this world -- limitations to magic, shapeshifting, healing, etc. -- are introduced slowly enough that the reader is not overwhelmed by information overload, but quickly enough that the pace of the story doesn't suffer. What the Athanor can and cannot accomplish is conveyed with enough subtlety that the unfolding of the story seems perfectly natural, and enough thoroughness that there's never a point where the reader is left thinking, "hey, can they do that?"  It's a delicate balance that is often difficult to achieve, and distinguishes quality fantasy from schlock.

On the whole, I would say Changer is a thought-provoking, entertaining, imaginative story which includes some ideas and images I expect will stay with me for quite some time.

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.


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