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The White Tribunal
Paula Volsky
Bantam Spectra Books, 400 pages

The White Tribunal

Paula Volsky
Her previous novels include The Gates of Twilight, Illusion, The Luck of Relian Kru, The Wolf of Winter and the Sorcerer's Lady series. It is comprised of The Sorcerer's Lady, The Sorcerer's Heir and The Sorcerer's Curse.

Bantam Spectra

Past Feature Reviews
A review by James Seidman

The White Tribunal is a dark, disturbing fantasy. In the wake of devastating wars that made profligate use of magic, Upper Hetzia outlawed all sorcery. The White Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, maintains constant vigilance for sorcerous activities. Since the thirteen jurists of the Tribunal get to keep the property of those they convict, rich nobles are favorite targets. Anyone who criticizes this state of affairs is quickly branded a sorcerer and boiled to death in a "disinfecting" ceremony. Now, a century after its founding, the Tribunal exceeds even the monarch in power.

Enter Tradain liMarchborg, who at the tender age of thirteen is arrested with his father and brothers on false charges of sorcery. He sees his family executed by the Tribunal and is himself imprisoned for over a decade. When he finally escapes, he sells his soul to become a sorcerer himself in order to bring "justice" to those responsible for his father's wrongful conviction. The deal gives him a finite amount of magical power, which is measured by the sands in an hourglass. Once he uses up his power, his soul is forfeit.

Much of the book is devoted to Tradain's plots of revenge. With his magical powers, he devises appropriate (and tortuous) plans for the wrongdoers. The execution of these plans makes for morbid but gripping reading. Almost as unnerving is the lack of satisfaction he receives from his revenge. No one in the book gets much opportunity to gloat or revel in the results of their actions. The protestations of the story's female love interest make him realize the emptiness of his actions.

Readers of Paula Volsky's other books will find The White Tribunal to be a definite change of style. Rather than focusing on the irresistible movement of political forces, The White Tribunal instead spends its time on a few individuals and their interactions. Magic also plays a much bigger role in this book than in any of her previous books. Fortunately, the best aspects of Volsky's writing, such as excellent character development and rich, detailed settings, all shine throughout this unusual fantasy. It all adds up to a captivating book that is very difficult to put down, but which leaves you with a vaguely unsettled feeling.

Copyright © 1997 James Seidman

James Seidman is co-founder and president of a small start-up company, which means that getting review copies of books is the only way he can afford to indulge his craving for science fiction. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and twenty-seven fish in Naperville, Illinois.

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