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Winter On the Plain of Ghosts
Eileen Kernaghan
Flying Monkey Press, 254 pages

Winter On the Plain of Ghosts
Eileen Kernaghan
Eileen Kernaghan was born and raised in British Columbia's North Okanagan Valley. Currently living in New Westminster, she has, over the last 36 years, worked as a freelance writer and a writing instructor for various arts centres, adult education departments, schools and libraries. Her award winning Grey Isles trilogy is set in bronze age Europe and is based on the origins of Stonehenge. Journey to Aprilioth (1980) won the silver "Porgy" Award for original paperback fiction from the West Coast Review of Books. Songs from the Drowned Lands (1983) won the 1983/84 Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, while the last book of the series, The Sarsen Witch was shortlisted for the same award. Dance of the Snow Dragon, a young adult fantasy novel with a Tibetan Buddhist background, was published in 1995 by Thistledown Press. Kernaghan's poems and short stories have appeared in PRISM international, OnSpec, Tesseracts, TransVersions, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Northern Stars, and Ark of Ice: Canadian Future Fictions. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award, and she is one-fifth of the poetry group Quintet, who recently published their first collection, Quintet: Themes and Variations.

The Snow Queen won an Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English.

Eileen Kernaghan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Snow Queen
SF Site Review: The Snow Queen
E-TEXT - Poetry: "Re-incarnate"
Bibliography
Interview: "Road to Shambhala"

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Winter On the Plain of Ghosts may be the only historical fantasy novel that's ever been written about the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro (in what is now Pakistan).  This strange, atmospheric setting with its unfamiliar culture makes an entirely fascinating backdrop to a strong narrative.

The account of Rujik's remarkable life starts in a small rural village in the ancient Indus Valley, where he grows up as one of the Chosen Ones -- foster children pampered by the villagers.  It seems an idyllic existence, until at age 12 he discovers that what the Chosen Ones are "chosen" for is to be human sacrifices to the Goddess, and this year is his turn.

Along with a Chosen girl named Bima, Rujik decides to choose his own fate and flees the village, embarking on an arduous journey to the City of the Tiger, Mohenjo-daro.  But life there is hard, too.  The city teems with poor, desperate people, dominated by an arrogant caste of priests who will do nothing to stem the disintegration of their civilization, even though the very bricks of the city are crumbling into the river, and drought and famine are destroying the surrounding farmland.

As a penniless orphan alone on the streets, Rujik has only his wits, his good luck, and his magic amulet to defend him from the human and supernatural perils.

Winter On the Plain of Ghosts reminded me more than a little of Dave Duncan's West of January.  Both novels use a man's memoirs as a focal point for telling the larger story of a civilization in decline, and both convey a terrific sense of scope and depth.  Of course, Duncan's world was entirely fictional, whereas Kernaghan's Mohenjo-daro of 2000 BC is based on archaeological evidence, but Kernaghan has also added appropriate magical elements such as alchemy, demons and spells, which heighten the drama in the book and give a sense of gravity to the peoples' beliefs.

Rujik is solid protagonist, and Kernaghan also peoples her narrative with a large cast of secondary characters, including some strong and very independent women who are nonetheless credible in their setting and culture. This crowd of extras is large, but not unwieldy, and Kernaghan makes her individuals so distinctive that the reader can easily keep track of them.

The only small flaw in my enjoyment of Winter On the Plain of Ghosts was a slight sense of anticlimax at the end where the focus of dramatic tension is on Rujik's survival, but we already know that Rujik will live and that the city is ultimately doomed.

Eileen Kernaghan is also a poet, and the title of this book is taken from a wonderfully eerie poem.  It begins:

The salt earth is bleached
and brittle as old bone, in winter
on the plain of ghosts.
Shrill and thin down the grey
millennia, the spirit voices
cry on the parched wind.
Winter On the Plain of Ghosts is an unusual novel that doesn't fit into a clear subgenre or niche, and Kernaghan, despite her track record of five successful fantasy books, suffered a stream of contradictory rejections (for instance, a fantasy publisher rejected the book because it was "a historical novel" and a mainstream house rejected it because it was "fantasy").  After twelve years of frustration, she went ahead and published it herself through Flying Monkey Press.  Readers can order Winter On the Plain of Ghosts from amazon.com (not amazon.ca) or direct from Neville Books: lonewolf@portal.ca.

Copyright © 2004 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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