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The Granite Shield
Fiona Patton
DAW Books, 512 pages


Jody Lee
The Granite Shield
Fiona Patton
Fiona Patton lives in the wilds of southern Ontario. Her previous novels in the tales of the Branion Realm are The Stone Prince and The Painter Knight.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Painter Knight
SF Site Review: The Stone Prince

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jean-Louis Trudel

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Fantasy is too often the preferred venue for light adventure, stock characters, and comic relief for The Granite Shield not to come as a rather refreshing change of pace.

The stakes are weighty and the confrontations unforgiving. The characters are in earnest, whether noble, base or conflicted. The humour (what little there is of it) is never forced. These may be the main merits of this third installment in the series of the Branion Realm.

As in several books by Guy Gavriel Kay, the setting is a barely disguised version of our own geography, in this case medieval Europe and especially Great Britain. The latter is known as Braniana's Island and it is divided between Heathland in the north, Gwyneth in the west, and Branion.

The first few pages provide a long list of characters. Though it is rather off-putting, it turns out to be unnecessary as long as newcomers to the series are willing to memorize the name, lineage, and traits of characters as they go along. In addition to a sizable cast of characters, there is a lot of background history, but Patton helps us to figure it all out with appropriate doses of exposition.

The main characters of The Granite Shield are two half-brothers, Rhys and Llewen. Conceived in accord with a vision granted his mother, Rhys is the inheritor of a proud lineage allied with the divine power known as the Living Flame. His father is an apostate, who has imprisoned the Living Flame within him by using the white magic of divine Esus. By right, his father rules Branion, where he has imposed the worship of Esus, but his mother is of Gwyneth, the still independent mountain country to the west.

Rhys, born through subterfuge, is expected to carry the Living Flame once his father dies and to protect Gwyneth from the enmity of the Esus cultists. Llewen, his wholly human brother, is a Seer who will help Rhys face overwhelming odds.

Make no mistake about it, this is the story of a war. Even set in a fantasy world fairly traditional in its lineaments, war is grim, and Fiona Patton does not shirk the portrayal of war's savagery.

The war involves the Gods in their Spiritual Realm as well as their devotees on the ground. Within Branion itself, it turns into a civil and religious war, with reinforcements from the Continent threatening to turn the tide. And war naturally brings sieges, betrayals, raids, street battles in the Branion capital, untimely deaths, and much bloodshed.

The final struggle between Branion and Gwyneth is delayed several times as Rhys grows into adulthood. The role played by young Rhys and Llewen during the earlier bouts of fighting may seem preposterous: they are all of 9 years old when they take part in a military campaign in which they ensure victory. Still, while the plot feels contrived at times, Patton handles her characters with a sure hand and a clear vision of their ambiguities. As befits a contest between equally matched Gods, there are worthy opponents on each side, even as they are moved like pawns. Rhys himself is not devoid of weaknesses. The complexity of the book's main characters and their occasional ruthlessness lend the novel a rare verisimilitude. As a result, the Branion Realm feels exceptionally true to its medieval ambience.

The Granite Shield is not one of those exceptional works that promise to redefine a whole genre, but it is a taut and sometimes gripping read, with fascinating characters and a carefully realized world. Readers who enjoy action and warfare (there's very little romance along the way) should not be disappointed.

Copyright © 1999 by Jean-Louis Trudel

Jean-Louis Trudel is a busy, bilingual writer from Canada, with two novels and fourteen young adult books to his credit in French. He's also a moderately prolific reviewer and short story writer.


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