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The Summer Palace
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Tor, 316 pages

The Summer Palace
Lawrence Watt-Evans
Lawrence Watt-Evans is the author of The Lords of Dus series (The Lure of the Basilisk, The Seven Altars of Dusarra, The Sword of Bheleu and The Book of Silence), as well as The Rebirth of Wonder (Wildside Press/Tor 1992), Split Heirs (with Esther Friesner), and the Three Worlds trilogy, among many others.

Lawrence Watt-Evans Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Turtle Moves!: Discworld's Story So Far
SF Site Review: The Turtle Moves!: Discworld's Story So Far
SF Site Review: The Wizard Lord
SF Site Review: Touched By The Gods

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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The Summer Palace concludes Lawrence Watt-Evans's Annals of the Chosen trilogy, in a generally satisfying fashion. That is, not only is the conflict at the heart of the trilogy resolved, but the implications of various things we learn during the books are also dealt with. The trilogy as a whole is enjoyable work, though not brilliant, and not as good as those of Watt-Evans's books I most like. I will add that it is a true trilogy, and it is definitely best to read all three books in order.

Breaker, or Sword, is the protagonist, one of the "Chosen" -- a set of heroes tasked with making sure that the ruling Wizard Lord doesn't become a Dark Lord and with removing him if he does. In the first book we learned the details of the magical system of Sword's world, particularly his home, Barokan, which is inhabited by innumerable spirits, or "ler," which need to be negotiated with to allow human activity. The "ler" are different from place to place, and their demands of the human intermediaries (called priests) vary radically, so that a place like Sword's hometown, Mad Oak, seems fairly normal and pleasant, but other places can be quite different, and occasionally horrific. The plot of the first volume involved Sword learning his position, learning more about his homeland, and (inevitably) realizing that the current Wizard Lord was a Dark Lord, and needed to be removed. This Sword and his fellows (with the exception of a traitor and a coward or two) manage to accomplish.

In the second volume, set several years later, we learn that the new Wizard Lord has some very unusual ideas. In fact, he believes that magic is on the wane, and he bends his efforts to improving the ability of the Barokanese to live without magic -- mostly by technological innovations like a road-building program. These make many people, including Sword, uneasy, but on balance his changes seem to be for the good. Until he starts killing his fellow Wizards, and until he begins to take action against the Chosen. At the end of the book, Sword is on the run, having seen two of his comrades imprisoned and two more killed.

In The Summer Palace, then, Sword comes to a decision. Either for revenge, or self-preservation, or because it is his duty to eliminate a new Dark Lord (if the new Wizard Lord is indeed a Dark Lord), he will try to kill the Wizard Lord. But there is no way for him to get past the Lord's magical defenses in Barokan, so he must hide in a land without magic. Such a land is the Uplands, inhabited by a nomadic people who live off the ostrich-like ara birds, whose feathers confer immunity to magic. The Uplands are also where the Wizard Lord has controversially established his Summer Palace.

Thus the novel is mostly the story of Swords sojourn in the Uplands. First he must make a place for himself in an Uplands tribe, which turns out to be difficult -- their first reaction is to view him as a slave. Secondly he must prepare to winter in the Uplands -- something even the nomads avoid, instead migrating to Barokan to stay in Winterhome with the Host People. And finally he must survive an incredibly brutal winter, with insufficient food and little source of heat. Fortunately, he makes an unexpected discovery about the true nature of the Uplands, something unknown to even its nomadic inhabitants. All this is detailed in interesting and involving fashion, leading to the inevitable climax, in which Sword confronts the Wizard Lord, comes to a decision about his status as a Dark Lord, and also about what course the future of Barokan should take -- for the appearance of consecutive Dark Lords suggests that the established loose quasi-political system is unstable. These issues are all resolved quite effectively.

So I enjoyed this novel, as I did the whole trilogy, but not without reservations. For one thing, there is a certain talkiness to much of the books -- an habit of Sword, in his head, repeatedly discussing things -- that seems too much of a muchness at times. For another thing, Sword's personal story seems, in the end, rather thin. I think this is part of the point -- he has, really, sacrificed quite a bit to become the Greatest Swordsman in the World, and by the end, with society changing, the prestige of that position seems of little worth. Watt-Evans is determinedly commonsensical as ever, and I can't but think Sword's predicament makes sense, but it still comes off a bit deflating. And finally, all the conflicts of the book, even up to the final resolution, while quite important, seem small scale. Again I think this is Watt-Evans being determinedly intelligent and logical -- but again it is a bit deflating. Still and all, The Annals of the Chosen is a fine and enjoyable trilogy, quite worth your time.

Copyright © 2009 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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