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The Witch Queen
Jan Siegel
Del Rey, 344 pages

The Witch Queen
Jan Siegel
Jan Siegel has already lived through one lifetime, during which she travelled the world and supported herself through a variety of professions, including that of actress, barmaid, garage hand, laboratory assistant, journalist, and model. Her new life is devoted to her writing, but she also finds time to ride, ski, and attend the opera. She's also the author of Prospero's Children, her debut novel and The Dragon Charmer.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dragon-Charmer
SF Site Review: Prospero's Children
Jan Siegel Fantasy Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Jan Siegel winds up her untitled trilogy in this final volume.

In previous books in the series, Fernanda Capel discovered her power as a witch (a legacy of the lost island of Atlantis), tried to repudiate it along with the tragedy it brought her, and was forced by the threat of a deadly enemy to acknowledge and embrace it once more. Now she's living in an uneasy balance, a present-day witch in the present-day world, with a soul "as modern as a microchip" and a full complement of ancient powers.

But Fern's hard-won peace is about to be tested. Morgus, the enemy who dragged her outside of time and held her prisoner beneath the roots of the gruesome Eternal Tree, didn't die in their final confrontation, as Fern believed. Preserved through sorcery, she has slipped back into the stream of time, bearing a cutting of the Tree. In an ancient, ghost-haunted country manor, she nurtures the cutting, which soon shows signs that it will bear its terrible fruit of living heads. When it does, Morgus will know what she must do to conquer modern Britain -- which for her, her mind bound to the ancient age in which she last walked the world, is still the antique Kingdom of Logrez.

Morgus has another purpose -- revenge on Fern, who dared escape and now is the only creature on Earth with, possibly, the power to oppose her. As Morgus starts to search for Fern, Fern begins to suspect Morgus may have survived. The two enemies stalk one another, using powerful witchcraft, summoning up fearful spirits and stirring deadly forces. Fern, new to her power, is weaker than Morgus; but she has something Morgus doesn't: allies, including the ex-wizard Ragginbone, the half-human wolf Lougarry, the house-goblin Bradachin, her friend Gaynor Mobberly, her brother Will, and Mabb the Goblin Queen. Meanwhile, behind everything, Fern's old nemesis Azmordis -- who has even more reason than Morgus to covet Fern's soul -- watches and waits.

Like the two earlier books, The Witch Queen is a feast of dark atmosphere and surreal imagery, laid forth in lovely prose. With power and precision, Siegel evokes the supernatural world that hovers like a shadow behind the world of everyday, drawing an effective contrast between the ancient powers Fern commands and the slick modern world she lives in -- a dissonance of which Fern is well aware, though not always able to satisfactorily resolve. Morgus too runs up against this dissonance, though she doesn't perceive it for what it is, enthusiastically embracing the more sybaritic and amoral aspects of present-day culture (designer clothing, financial fraud) but still viewing everything through her Dark Age mindset. For all her enormous power, she's a fish out of water, and it's this failure to adapt, in part, that leads to her downfall.

Morgus is totally evil, without a shred of doubt or remorse to add dimension to her character. In The Dragon Charmer this wasn't a problem, partly because of the bizarre and dreamlike setting, partly because Morgus was seen mainly from the outside, through Fern's eyes. But in the modern environment of The Witch Queen's, where she has become a viewpoint character, she's simply too rotten to be believed, and her interior monologues -- an unvarying litany of hatred, arrogance, and sadistic malice -- soon start to feel monotonous. Too, there's a sense of retread in the return-of-the-enemy plot structure, with its predictable turning points and inevitable outcome (and perfunctory treatment of some recurring characters, especially the half-human Kal, who was so powerfully portrayed in the previous novel and who, one feels, could have played a larger part in this one). It's not until Morgus is out of the way that events begin to surprise, culminating in an unexpected and effective ending.

Flaws in the earlier books were eclipsed by the originality of Siegel's settings, the power of her prose, and her acute sense of the terror and wonder of the supernatural world-behind-the-world. These strengths are present in The Witch Queen, but this time they aren't quite enough. It's a disappointing finish to what is, nevertheless, a fascinatingly original series by a gifted writer.

Copyright © 2002 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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