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Dreams of the Compass Rose
Vera Nazarian
iBooks, 311 pages

Vera Nazarian
Leaving the U.S.S.R. as a refugee at the age of 8, Vera Nazarian settled in the United States in 1976, a month before her 10th birthday. In 1988 she received her B.A. from Pomona College in Claremont, CA, (double-major in English and Psychology) and went on to work for 10 years in the high tech industry. Holding down a full-time tech job by day, she would write science fiction and fantasy at night. She had sold her first short story at the age of 17 to the second volume of Marion Zimmer Bradley's anthology series Sword and Sorceress. Since then she has published numerous works of short fiction in anthologies and magazines, and has seen her work translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Czech, Hebrew, and Hungarian.

Her debut novel Dreams of the Compass Rose (Wildside Press) made the 2002 Nebula Awards Preliminary Ballot for Best Novel, while her second novel, an epic fantasy about a world without color, Lords of Rainbow was published in March 2003. Both novels were nominated for the Spectrum Awards. Her novellas The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass (PS Publishing, 2005), and The Duke in His Castle (forthcoming), and short story collection Salt of the Air (fall 2006) are among her other works. An additional volume of Compass Rose stories is stated to be "in the works"" and tentatively titled Gods of the Compass Rose.

Vera Nazarian Website
INTERVIEW: 1, 2, 3
EXCERPT: 1, 2, see also for other works
REVIEWS: 1, 2, 3, 4

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Dreams of the Compass Rose If you're looking to Dreams of the Compass Rose for yet another instalment of the post-Tolkien fantasy paradigm, you'll be very disappointed. Similarly if you're looking for something of the China Miéville school of "New Weird" you won't find it here either. Think rather Burton's translation of The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, then add the twists of irony and gorgeous prose (if somewhat toned down from their dictionary-requiring excesses) of Lord Dunsany's early tales, or Clark Ashton Smith. The comparison of Vera Nazarian's work to the 1001 Nights, besides the Arabian-like setting, is particularly apt given that the stories are told in a style much more reminiscent of traditional oral story tellers, such as Scheherazade, than of written fiction. Beyond this, storytellers are themselves important characters in bringing on the tale's resolution, and distinguishing what is reality and what illusion. The great originality of Dreams of the Compass Rose in today's Tolkienian trope recycling assembly line, clearly derives in part from the author's "Armenian-Russian" cultural heritage, along with the fact that she just doesn't fit the classically-educated western white Anglo-Saxon male Morris-Dunsany-Cabell-Eddison-Tolkien fantasy author mold. Of course her mentoring by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley probably didn't hurt either.

Originally published in 2002 by Wildside Press, Dreams of the Compass Rose is a collection of 14 intricately interwoven dreams, which tell of a semi-desert world of oases, cities shimmering mirage-like between reality and imagination, where the seemingly weak and downtrodden wield great influence, in a place ruled over by a ruthless but Illusion-ensnared emperor (taqavor) who cannot face his past -- central to and representative of his vast empiristan of Amarantea is a floating compass rose. Unlike, for example, Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, the 14 dreams are not linked by a framing story, but rather through the recurrence of different well developed characters at different stages and or incarnations in their existences, some human, some gods, some deluded by illusion, some parting its veil over reality. In this sense, the book explores what develops when illusion is allowed to mask truth, something which some might argue is not entirely irrelevant to current times.

A man who is chased by Death whose scythe he has stolen in order to preserve his love, a cityscape which shifts according to the mad dreams of its aging king, the greed-driven demise of an oasis town, a warrior who faithfully serves a spiteful and spoiled princess, a wonderful horse in which an emperor thinks to have trapped illusion... all these intermingle in a finely woven tapestry of Dunsany-Smith tinged, but not derivative fantasy. Certainly, to my personal tastes, this is the finest new fantasy work I've read in at least a decade, reminding me of more youthful days spent devouring Ballantine Adult Fantasy series titles

This isn't to say that Dreams of the Compass Rose is flawless, there are a few instances where the usually lush prose sinks to a somewhat more pedestrian level, although never gratingly so. While not in any sense overtly feminist, the majority of the strong characters are women. Nonetheless the male characters retain interest in their devotedness, dutifulness, and particularly with respect to their entanglements with Illusion.

For anyone who enjoys the pre-Tolkienian masters of adult fantasy, Dreams of the Compass Rose is clearly must read, and re-read; for others, read because it is original, intelligent, challenging and reinvents the sort of material that formed the basis of modern fantasy.

Copyright © 2006 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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