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The Company of Glass: Everien, Book 1
by Valery Leith
Bantam Spectra, 399 pages


Stephen Youll
The Company of Glass: Everien, Book 1
Valery Leith
Valery Leith was born in the US but now makes England her home. The Company of Glass is her first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
Valery Leith Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

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Sometimes I think life is too short to start reading yet another fantasy trilogy. Then I always relent, pick up that oh-so-tempting "Book I," and start reading anyway, if only to prove my instinct wrong. This time, it wasn't.

The Land of Everien is between a rock and a hard place. The beautiful but evil Sekk, an ancient enemy capable of turning the minds of Everien's Clan warriors against their own people, threaten from one direction, while Pharician horsemen are invading from another. To make matters worse, a messenger named Tarquin the Free has just brought bad tidings to King Lerien, at the interdimensionally-challenged keep of Jai Khalar, that Everien's great army has gone missing, while the enemy masses at the border. Fortunately Tarquin the Free turns out to be the former Quintar of Seahawk clan, the leader of a legendary fighting force under Everien's previous ruler, Queen Ysse. Years ago Quintar led his troop against the Sekk; none of them ever returned. All were believed dead -- until now.

In the best tradition of the reluctant hero, Tarquin refuses to talk about what the Sekk did to his men, or explain how he alone managed to survive all these years. He has returned now to warn Lerien, and to help him protect the kingdom Quintar abandoned so many years ago.

Options at this point appear few. If magic has destroyed the army, or they've been mind-controlled by the Sekk, little can be done to save Everien. Mhani, the High Seer of Jai Khalar, knows the ancient Everien magic stored in rare, magical crystal Artifacts will not be enough to save the kingdom. She councils Lerien to send a party to find a new Artifact. Lerien himself would rather put his faith in his army, if only he could find it.

Meantime Istar, the daughter of Mhani and Tarquin's best friend Chyco, one of the warriors lost to the Sekk years ago, is determined to find Jai Pendu, most notorious of the mysterious and distant Floating Islands, and find a legendary Artifact to save her people.

From these three plot strands -- Istar, Mhani, and Tarquin -- Valery Leith attempts to weave a balanced story of magic and derring-do. Tarquin is a simple man at heart. When faced with the rabid record-keeping of Jai Khalar's seers and sage, he can only shake his head and think:

"If a man couldn't remember everything he needed to know without writing it down, he probably knew too much for his own good."
Istar is the typical young warrior striving to prove herself, with her gender as much a hindrance as her youth and inexperience, and the dim memory of her famous father. Unfortunately her character vacillates inconsistently between ultra-tough and annoyingly whiny. Her own small band of young misfit fighters and sages is no better off, and frequently gets sidetracked by trivial matters on the journey.

Back at Jai Khalar, the fears which High Seer Mhani harbours for her headstrong daughter are kept buried beneath her own drive to find a power to wield against Everien's enemies. Worse, she must also contend with the wild dimension-shifting magic of Jai Khalar itself. The keep's tendency to have doors open onto thin air and turn corridors into shafts is as dangerous to Everien as any attacking force could be. Her portion of the story is the least necessary, however, since the bulk of it involves observing visions in the Artifact crystals which fill in unneeded backstory.

The novel itself feels overly long, especially with frequent cliffhanger leaps from one subplot to the next. There are some rare haunting scenes, as when Istar's band enters a small village and meets a young girl whose beauty is horribly marred by a large X scarred across her cheek. For this is how parents mark good-looking children, to keep them from being mistaken as Sekk raiders in disguise and killed.

All too often events seem random, only in place to lengthen the story. Purple prose abounds, as when Istar's band faces a bizarre threat in the Floating Lands:

"The thing before them was not a beast, but nor was it a mechanical system. It was something less abstract and dismissible than a vision, though indisputably a strain and a terror to the already fevered imagination..."
Despite the melodrama of the past and the multitude of present plotlines, the story never develops any real sense of direction, while the characters never rise beyond ink on a page. After all the struggle, the conclusion of Book I is anti-climactic, with little momentum to propel the reader forward to the next installment.

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.


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