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Wild Magic
Jude Fisher
Simon & Schuster Earthlight, 656 pages

Wild Magic
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 Sorcery Rising, first in the Fool's Gold trilogy, and the official Visual Companions to Peter Jackson's film trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. With M. John Harrison, she has published four novels under the pseudonym of Gabriel King.

Jude Fisher's Website
Extract from Wild Magic
SF Site Review: Sorcery Rising
SF Site Review: The Wild Road and The Golden Cat
SF Site Review: The Wild Road
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Wild Magic, second in Jude Fisher's Fool's Gold trilogy, picks up immediately where the previous volume left off (with a handy "What Has Gone Before" preface that offers the reader the option of skipping the preliminary exposition and plunging right into the story). Katla Aranson, gifted metalsmith of the northern Eyran Isles, has been miraculously healed of the injury she received at the tumultuous Allfair, where religious fanatics from the southern Empire of Istria attempted to burn her for blasphemy; in the process, powers have woken in her that she doesn't understand. Gentle Saro Vingo, who shares neither the religious fanaticism nor the xenophobia common among his fellow Istrians, has been forced into a horrible servitude to his loathsome brother Tanto, rendered bedridden by a wound incurred in the commission of a rape. Apprentice mage Virelai, who bound his sorcerer master into sleep and stole from him both his paramour, the exquisite Rosa Eldi, and his magic, contained in a black cat called Bete, is now in service to devious Istrian nobleman Tycho Issian, whose obsession with the Rosa Eldi is slowly driving him mad. And the Rosa Eldi herself, now married to Eyran king Ravn Asharson, finds herself adrift in an alien world, struggling to make sense of her new life and also of the blank that is her past, for she cannot remember who or what she is.

The focus of jealousy and suspicion among the people of Ravn's court, she's also under pressure to conceive an heir. Meanwhile, in the south, a different kind of pressure is growing, as opportunists and fanatics urge holy war against the heretics of Eyra. Tyco Issian is one of the most passionate of these advocates; what those around him don't know is that his only interest is in seizing the Rosa Eldi for himself. Through the painful empathic power with which he has been cursed since the Allfair, Saro accidentally discovers Issian's mad ambition; horrified, he finally finds the strength to flee his family and the military career they want to force on him. By accident he falls in with Virelai, who has his own reasons for running away. As they travel south, Saro comes to realize that Virelai is a very strange creature indeed, and that Bete the cat is more than she seems. At the same time, far away in Eyra, Katla's father Aran Aranson plans a voyage into the uncharted North, in search of the fabled island of Sanctuary, where a great treasure is said to lie. Katla is determined to go with him on this adventure of all adventures -- despite a prophetic warning from a mysterious one-eyed healer that her fate lies in a different direction.

Around and within these several stories, greater events play out. Magic is rising, growing ever stronger, wilder, and more unpredictable. Gods, long exiled from the world, are stirring back to consciousness. And an ancient prophecy, whose significance no one quite understands, is beginning to unfold.

Though Wild Magic is the middle portion of a trilogy, there's no trace of mid-series drag. Earlier events are referenced but not re-hashed, and the characters' adventures veer off in interesting new directions that, while clearly setting up conflicts and questions to be resolved in the final installment, are significant enough in their own right to give this book weight as an independent volume (though not as a stand-alone). Vibrant new locales are visited, and there's no shortage of fast-paced action. The maritime scenes are especially fine, including Aran Aranson's voyage into the frozen North, which recalls doomed voyages both real and fictional, from the wreck of the Endurance to the Gothic sufferings of Coleridge's Mariner.

Character development continues to be a strength of this series, with all the grand events firmly rooted in the very personal struggles, talents and failings of those who enact them. Katla, with her blend of stubbornness, selfishness, courage, and vulnerability, is especially sympathetic (she does some growing up in this book, and I suspect will do a lot more in the one to come). Unlike more typical epic protagonists, most of the characters don't have any idea that anything major is at stake, or perceive their places in the larger drama building around them; even those who are aware that they hold a piece of a puzzle don't yet suspect the size or shape of the whole. It makes for a refreshing change from the sort of fantasy where everyone knows exactly what the stakes are right from the get-go.

Like its predecessor, Wild Magic is a very complex novel, with a plethora of characters both major and minor, and numerous plotlines. It's not just a narrative, but a technical challenge to juggle so many stories and players without dropping or shortchanging at least a few of them, but Fisher manages this with great skill (though the frequent intercutting does somewhat diminish the impact of the climactic events, especially Aran Aranson's harrowing voyage). Also skillfully interwoven are the larger story elements -- the prophecy, the rise of magic, the stirring of the gods. These, which no doubt will be the focus of the series' conclusion, remain mostly in background in this volume, though hints and references throughout remind the reader that they are in play. By book's end, there have been some important revelations (the fact that many readers will already have figured some of them out is, I think, intentional), and the broad outlines of the conflicts to come are clear. But it isn't really possible to predict with any certainty where it will all end up -- all the more reason to be eager for the final installment.

Copyright © 2003 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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