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Gravelight
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Tor Books, 288 pages

Gravelight
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer, born in June, 1930, began a science fiction fanzine when she was seventeen. The same year she married Robert Bradley in 1947 and divorced in 1964. Her first published short SF appeared in 1953 in the magazine, Vortex, and 5 years later, the first Darkover novel appeared. Her best known work is The Mists of Avalon, a rewrite of the Arthurian myth.

SF Site review of The Shadow Matrix
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Marion Zimmer Bradley Tribute Site
Marion Zimmer Bradley Tribute Site
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A review by Ann Benson

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Marion Zimmer Bradley has an unparalleled ability to write stories that make us believe things we would not ordinarily believe. She neatly and handily gets us to drop all of our preconceived notions of what the world is in exchange for her sometimes wild ideas of what the world might seem to be if we looked a little closer. What often surprises me about her work is how willingly she gets us to make this leap.

In Gravelight, she takes one geographical location in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia (the sort of time-stands-still rural area where cousins marry each other) and morphs it into a place of frightening parapsychologicial power and depth. This power arises principally from a Wellspring or "Gate" located on the grounds of an old sanitorium, which has been destroyed by fire decades previously. Naturally, this sort of location breeds strange happenings and bizarre disappearances, which is why a team of "professional" parapsychologists from a small liberal arts college in upstate New York decides to make it a summer research project. Two members of this group are engaged to each other. Dylan Palmer is the organizer of the expedition, and for all practical purposes its leader, while his fiancee Truth Jourdemayne is the direct descendent of beings who have been involved in the otherwordly keeping and operation of the Gate.

Two other people, each one tortured by failures, difficulties, and other sorts of desperation, happen on this location, one by choice, the other by circumstances that on first glance seem beyond his control. Sinah Dellon is a successful actress who returns to this town to reconnect with the spirits of her own ancestors, in particular a woman who died in the fire that destroyed the sanitorium, and may have had a part in starting that fire. Wycherly Musgrave, a spoiled, overprotected alcoholic who somehow slid into early middle age with his adolescent issues still unresolved, is burdened by his belief that he was responsible for the death of his teenage girlfriend decades earlier, and is driven to run away from his overbearing wealthy family. He cracks up his Ferrari on a mountainside and must convalesce in a rustic cabin not far from the site of the Wellspring. As he recovers from his injuries, the Gate discovers him.

These four characters, supported by a few less important ones, end up engaging in a tangled and sometimes murky quadrangle of overlapping needs, desires, and fears. They work steadily, sometimes together, sometimes at cross purposes, at discovering their personal connections to the Gate, and ultimately they are forced to join forces to both understand and control the rest of the world's connection to the Gate.

This well-written book compelled me to keep reading, because the twists and turns and interplay of the well-drawn characters held my attention. There are some plot problems, though, largely due to repetitiveness. On more than one occasion, I found myself thinking, "Okay, I know this already," or, "I could have predicted that," and I was tempted to skip certain passages in order to get on to the newer stuff. Nevertheless, Gravelight was an enjoyable and entertaining read that fantasy fans, particularly those who enjoy Bradley's work, can sink their teeth into. It's an absorbing rainy-day read.

Copyright © 1997 by Ann Benson

Novelist Ann Benson is the author of The Plague Tales (Delacorte, 1997). She is currently working on a sequel due out in late 1998. She invites you to visit her website at www.plaguetales.com and welcomes reader comments on her books.


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