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The Shadow Isle
Katharine Kerr
HarperVoyager, 368 pages

The Shadow Isle
Katharine Kerr
Katharine Kerr is the author of the popular Deverry series of fantasy novels which started with Daggerspell, and continued with Darkspell, The Bristling Wood, The Dragon Revenant, and several others. Her Westlands series includes A Time of Exile and A Time of Omens. She is also the author of the SF novel Polar City Blues and the editor of the World Fantasy Award nominated anthology, The Shimmering Door.

Katharine Kerr Website
ISFDB Bibliography
>SF Site Review: Snare
SF Site Review: The Fire Dragon
SF Site Review: The Black Raven
SF Site Review: The Red Wyvern

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tammy Moore

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The Shadow Isle by Katharine Kerr is Book Six of the Dragon Mage series and the penultimate novel in the epic Deverry series. A bitter-sweet read for someone, like me, who has read the series from the very beginning. Or it would be, if I had time to dwell on that instead of focusing all my attention on keeping up with the events that start unfolding the moment you open the book.

Katharine Kerr doesn't do previously's. She doesn't do easy either. From the very first novel in the series, Daggerspell, the Deverry world has been a rich and fully realized one, where the web of influence cast by politics, magic and religion stretches from Dun Deverry to the Westlands and a strand touched by a free-spirited bard in one place can influence a gwerbret's plans on the other side of the country. Fourteen books on and the influence of alliances, debts and blood-feuds -- that involve not just nations but other races, and can carry from one life to the next -- run through the novel like strung wires; the reader just has to wait and see which is to be plucked next. Add to that the fact that the cast of characters includes those who have died and been reborn, sometimes more than once and sometimes changing from enemy to ally in the process, and in the hands of a less accomplished author it could be a disaster. Katharine Kerr, however, navigates the world with a surety of touch that can't just be down to a continuity bible (even one as thick as Deverry's must be by now); she doesn't just remember events she recalls the tone and language that evoke setting and character. Characters such as Jill and Rhodry, who have been born and died many times, caught on a snarl of fate for centuries, remain both recognisable and unique from one incarnation to the next.

In The Shadow Isle we return to a Deverry massing for war with the Horsekin, a common enemy for the Mountain Folk, Westfolk, Gel da'Thae and Deverrians. The Westfolk dweomer-master Dallandra and her allies must aid that struggle while at the same time seeking to find a way to return the vanished island of Haen Marn to its proper place in the Northlands, in the hopes that they will find the secret to turning Rhodry Maelwaedd from dragon back to his human form. Meanwhile, on Haen Marn Rhodry's lover Angmar and their twin daughters know nothing about the efforts to rescue them and search for their own way home, while maintaining an uneasy peace with their pious neighbours.

As each group pursues their own goal they draw closer together, and move further apart. Old plot threads are resolved and new ones are formed, laid down in the storyline like gems in the stone of the Mountain Folk's home. It is hard to believe that Kerr will be able to resolve all of them in only one more novel, but I have faith she can. Although, I think this is one world where I don't expect to feel that the story is finished on the last page. The world of Deverry is so complex, so carefully constructed, that it's easy to imagine that life will go on there once we stop watching.

I do miss the storylines set in the past that used to thread through the books, but I don't think The Shadow Isle suffers for the lack. In the same way, I wish more time had been spent on some of my favourite sub-plots while not wanting to sacrifice any of the other sub-plots.

For me, Katharine Kerr is one of the premier world-builders in Fantasy and a masterful storyteller to boot. After all, the maxim is "always leave them wanting more" and she's certainly done that here.

Copyright © 2008 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.


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