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Sorcery Rising
Jude Fisher
Simon & Schuster Earthlight, 502 pages

Sorcery Rising
Jude Fisher
Jude Fisher is a pseudonym for Jane Johnson, publishing director of Voyager, the SF imprint of HarperCollins UK. She holds two literature degrees, specializing in Anglo-Saxon and Old Icelandic texts, and is also a qualified lecturer. She is the author of the official Visual Companions to Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, and with M. John Harrison has published four novels under the pseudonym of Gabriel King.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wild Road and The Golden Cat
SF Site Review: The Wild Road

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

The first book of Jude Fisher's Fool's Gold series, Sorcery Rising, opens on the confusion of the Allfair, a two-week period when the peoples of the world of Elda set aside their religious bigotries and cultural differences, and gather to trade goods, services, and less concrete commodities: knowledge, sex, political influence.

From the northern kingdom of Eyra come young metalworker Katla Aranson of the Rockfall clan, with her father and brothers; and Ravn Asharson, new King of Eyra, bored and frustrated and in need of both adventure and a wife. From the Istrian Empire in the south, where strict religious observance circumscribes every aspect of life, come dreamy Saro Vingo, perennially under the shadow of his dashing, massively self-centered older brother, Tanto; and Lord Tycho Issian, heavily in debt and looking to make a lucrative marriage for his daughter, Selen. From everywhere on Elda come the Footloose, a nomadic people who trade in many things, including small magics. And from Sanctuary, a kingdom of ice somewhere in the far north, comes Virelai, a mage's apprentice who has stolen both his master's magic (contained within his familiar, a black cat) and his greatest treasure: the Rosa Eldi, the Rose of the World, a woman whose slightest glance fires men with unstoppable lust.

As all these people meet and clash and are forever altered in the tumultuous environment of the Allfair, as political alliances are made and betrayed, as the ancient enmity between Eyra and Istria is re-kindled and the shadow of war looms, something else, dangerously, is beginning to stir: the old magic, long banished from Elda, awakened now from its sleep and flooding back into the world.

This is a complex novel, with a dense plot and an intricate interweaving of many different viewpoints and storylines. It's clear, however, that it's only the opening to a much larger saga -- a sort of 500-page prologue introducing key players and concepts and shuffling them into position for the next installment, where the real action will occur.

This sort of thing isn't easy to do effectively: in the hands of a less-than-skillful writer, it runs the risk of dropped threads and lost focus, not to mention flagging momentum and a sense of padding. But that's not the case here. Jude Fisher is in firm control of her material, and the sense of a smaller story about to give birth to a bigger one is a vital part of the atmosphere of mystery and suspense she creates. Too, it's all terrifically entertaining, with rollicking action, an exotic world vividly grounded in earthy detail, and characters who step right off the page -- especially Katla, who manages to remain sympathetic despite her pigheadedness; Saro, whose growing disillusionment with his people's restrictive faith is convincingly drawn; and Virelai, whose conscienceless opportunism is as understandable as it is reprehensible. The character development in this novel (where even minor players have a backstory) is as important as the convolutions of the plot, providing a depth and interest that even the most exciting adventures and wondrous magics can't achieve alone.

Depending on the reader's taste, the conclusion -- which abandons all the characters at moments of crisis, like a TV serial -- will either tantalize or annoy. But Jude Fisher knows what she's doing; she even satirizes a little, with an ending that cuts things off not just mid-action, but mid-sentence. This is an exciting start to a promising series, and I'll be looking forward to its continuation. Published in the UK by Earthlight, Sorcery Rising will be released by DAW in the USA this July.

Copyright © 2002 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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