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Children of the Shaman
Jessica Rydill
Roc Books, 368 pages

Children of the Shaman
Jessica Rydill
Jessica Rydill studied at King's College, Cambridge and the College of Law and has worked as a solicitor for 13 years. But it is her travels and adventures across the world that have provided the inspiration for her writing. The Glass Mountain is the sequel to Children of the Shaman, her first novel.

Jessica Rydill Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

A marketing adage is that people like that which is already familiar to them, which is why there are so many clones of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, for instance. In the case of Children of the Shaman, Jessica Rydill has created a world which is similar to ours, but at the same time different. Jews in her world are called Wanderers and Christians, or Doxoi, worship a deity who was broken on the wheel instead of hung on the cross. Nomenclature is a mixture of Slavic and French with some Yiddish and Hebrew thrown in. Although vaguely familiar, these semblances work against the novel as the reader tries to fit everything to an analogue which doesn't entirely match.

Rydill has clearly spent a considerable amount of time creating her world-that-isn't quite ours, and she just as clearly is cognizant of much more information than she is allowing the reader to share. While some authors tend to overload the reader, Rydill could be more generous is allotting her background, although as she has future plans for this realm, it may be that she will provide the desired information in an upcoming book.

Children of the Shaman gets underway at a leisurely pace, not unlike a locomotive trying to pick up steam. Unfortunately, this may cause readers to question whether it is a book worth reading to the end of the line or if they should get off at one of the intervening stations. Like a railroad, Rydill's story passes through a seeming unending panoply of exotic towns, beginning as a story of two children being reunited with their estranged father before moving on to a murder mystery, a coming-of-age story, a fantastic quest among others. In fact, there are so many motifs at play that the novel seems to have become a runaway train, the author unable or unwilling to keep it on the tracks.

Rydill's protagonist is Annat, a Wanderer adolescent whose ailing aunt has dropped her and her brother, Malchik, off with their long-missing father, Yuda. Although currently employed as a guard for the railway, Yuda is about to take a job in a frontier village as an healer, using his skills as a shaman. At the same time, he will coach Annat in her own abilities as a Shaman. Although Annat and Yuda can communicate telepathically, and their relationship is closer than Yuda's relationship with Malchik, Rydill doesn't fully use this ability to build their relationship.

The plot eventually kicks off when Malchik disappears in the wake of numerous murders and disappearances, nearly a third of the way through the novel. Annat and Yuda, accompanied by Yuda's longtime friend Govorin and his wife, Casildis, enter the faerie realm of La Souterraine to try to retrieve the boy and learn the cause behind the various deaths. Rydill's prose is strong and she's able to build a wonderfully tactile world of color, sound and temperature. The train moving through the wilderness is depicted with love in an almost cinematic manner. Her characters food and drink almost come to life in her descriptions of their flavor, look and aroma. Although different from ours, Rydill's world has a sense of reality and presence.

Children of the Shaman is a welcome first novel. Not without its faults, it presents indications of an innovative voice in fantastic fiction who can combine seemingly disparate elements into what one hopes will eventually become a seamless whole. Readers who discover Rydill with Children of the Shaman will have the pleasure of watching her grow as an author in subsequent books as well as enjoying a novel similar to the standard fantasy novel, but different enough to make one question the familiarity.

Copyright © 2003 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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