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Ironcrown Moon
Julian May
HarperCollins Voyager, 502 pages

Art: Dominic Harman
Ironcrown Moon
Julian May
Julian May was born in 1931. Her first story, "Dune Roller," was published in the early 50s. The author then wrote non-fiction and children's books before bursting onto the fantasy scene with the Saga of Pliocene Exile (The Many-Coloured Land, The Golden Torc, The Non-Born King and The Adversary). She resides in Seattle.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Conqueror's Moon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

In this second book of The Boreal Moon Tale, Snudge, spy, wild talent, and trusted friend of King Conrig Windcantor continues to reveal the secrets of what really happened, risking his own life and the security of the Blenholme Sovereignty.

In the last book Conrig's wife, Queen Maudrayne, forced into a divorce from her husband, calmly signs the papers, then leaps off the castle walls and to her death. But now Conrig knows she did not die, and that she may have born a child. This is extremely dangerous for him, because any person with even the tiniest bit of magical talent must immediately report themselves, or be reported, to the brothers of Zeth for training. They then become part of that order and can do nothing else -- certainly not reign as king.

Maud knows this secret, as does her advisor. Conrig, knowing her desire to revenge herself upon him (a desire that is not completely unfounded) has decided that she must be found, and dealt with in the most permanent manner. He's desperate enough to trust Conjure-Queen Ullanoth, a powerful ally with intentions towards his throne of her own to search for the dowager princess. But this is not the only problem he faces.

Ullanoth's younger brother, Beynor, and Conrig's former Alchymist Klian have joined together. Klian knows where to find a treasure trove of sigils. All real magic in this land is done through sigils, powerful emblems that can all do one thing -- for a price. Beynor can no longer touch the power of the sigils, but he hopes that by giving these to the Salka, he'll be able to find a new kind of power. Maudrayne isn't just sitting around waiting, either. She has her own plans. Then there is the mysterious Source, who has been imprisoned in a cave and seeks sigils for his own gains -- each sigil he is able to unravels gets him a little close to freedom. He seems like a helpful and amiable creature. But can he truly be trusted?

Ironcrown Moon has two things that make it a very fascinating read. The first, aside from Snudge himself and Conrig's older brother Stergos, there are really no good guys. Conrig's whole design was to conquer his part of the world, and now he's trying to do whatever he needs to in order to keep it. Ordering Maud's death, his general harshness whether it's in assigning punishment to the castle servants or to his own son or in how he deals with any perceived enemy is done with ruthless, calculated cunning. You feel bad for Maud. She was his first wife, the one who rose with him into power, yet he messed around on her and was willing to dump her because he thought her barren, thinking that the new wife (who seems rather sweet) would be a better deal. Yet, she's still not anywhere near perfect, either. Your main characters (Snudge really, in some ways, doesn't count. This isn't really his autobiography, rather an honest history of the events he witnessed.) are not admirable, but you can't stop reading about them. They have their good points as well as their bad, and are all very complex.

The second thing will lead from the first. Ullanoth is also one of these complex characters, and a good example of why the magic of Ironcrown Moon adds a lot to it. Magic comes from Sigils, which were made by the Salka, who once ruled these lands as their own. In exchange for magic, you need to give them pain. The beacon folk eat pain, it's what they live on. Ullanoth, in order to secure last book's victory, has promised a huge debt of pain, proving that the more powerful you get in their world, the more you lose. The pain, the debt you might rack up, serves as a natural counterbalance that makes this magic special.

A fascinating portrait of greed and ambition.

Copyright © 2005 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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