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A Sorcerer's Treason
Sarah Zettel
HarperCollins Voyager, 595 pages

A Sorcerer's Treason
Sarah Zettel
Sarah Zettel was born in California in 1966. She has been writing for more that 14 years now. With several published novels in hand and her short fiction published in Analog, she's found herself with a host of fans and critics alike singing the praises of her work. Currently, she lives in Michigan with her husband Tim.

Sarah Zettel Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Kingdom of Cages
SF Site Review: Kingdom of Cages
SF Site Review: Playing God
SF Site Review: Fool's War

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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The time is 1899, the place the coast of Lake Superior. The heroine is Bridget Lederle, daughter of now deceased parents and mother of a baby who died, all of whom she still mourns. She is a lighthouse keeper, a job that might seem randomly selected but turns out to be important; she also has a kind of second sight, and her single living relative is a grim aunt, Grace, who earns her living as a fake medium. Or is she fake? Can Bridget believe her when she suddenly appears and warns Bridget not to have anything to do with people from "over there?"

Sarah Zettel, who gained critical acclaim for her science fiction, makes her debut in fantasy with A Sorcerer's Treason, which is purported to be the first of a trilogy. She brings to the fantasy form a strong sense of how myth and archetype furnish the material for compelling magic. At the very start, a terrible storm drives a boat onto the rocks below Sarah's lighthouse, and as she's done times before, she rescues its pilot, Valin Kalami. Almost at once this man scares Sarah with his intensity, his strange visions, his insistence that she is the only one to help him -- in another world. Despite Aunt Grace's warnings, Bridget chooses to go to that world.

Before Kalami can draw Bridget over to Isavalta, we meet Kalami's enemies and allies in that world, which seems to be comprised of three main empires reminiscent of Russia, China, and India. We meet rulers, advisers, mages, gods and shapeshifters, all of them spying on one another in a desperate and ongoing struggle for power. Kalami's mistress, the empress Medeoan, is locked in a battle with her daughter-in-law Ananda for control of her son, Mikkel. Bridget is to be brought, at great cost, to help.

When at last Bridget crosses worlds to Isavalta, she slowly begins to discover that everything is not as simple, or rather clear-cut, as Kalami had led her to believe. She questions her own and others' motives at all times, but never more intensely than when she meets Sakra, the devoted mage of the empress-to-be, Ananda -- and when she discovers the truth about her real parents.

Using many points of view, Zettel weaves her story. The pacing is somewhat slow, almost deliberate, the world absorbingly complex. The characters, too, are complex: here are no cardboard Evil Mages or Perfect Heroes. We feel some sympathy for everyone, though by the middle of the book it is Sakra and Bridget who draw the eye -- and Vixen, the fox goddess. The stakes build, the choices become more difficult for everyone. Though this book is a setup for at least two more, it achieves a splendid climax, and resolves enough to both satisfy and leave the reader wanting more.

Given the slow pacing, the complexity of the cultures and motivations of the huge cast of characters with their difficult names, A Sorcerer's Treason might be a challenge for young readers, or readers new to the fantasy genre. But for the experienced reader, especially one who is tired of the same old linear quest plot (plucky heroes against the Evil Emperor), Zettel's book will be a particularly rewarding read.

Copyright © 2003 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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