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Prisoner of the Iron Tower: Book Two of The Tears of Artamon
Sarah Ash
Bantam Spectra, 467 pages

Stephen Youll
Prisoner of the Iron Tower
Sarah Ash
Sarah Ash read music at New Hall, Cambridge for four years, studying with Robin Holloway and John Rutter for her finals. Her interests in music and drama led her into teaching where she has been lucky to work with many dynamic and talented young people. Although she had co-written several musicals for young performers, she decided in 1991 to concentrate her creative energies on her other passion: writing. Having been shortlisted in the final ten of the Guardian Children's Fiction award for a -- still unpublished -- fantasy The Mabinogion Mice, her breakthrough came in 1992 with the publication in Interzone of the short story 'Moth Music'.

Sarah Ash Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Lord of Snow and Shadows

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

In Lord of Snow and Shadows, Gavril Nagarian managed to cast out the Drakhaoul that possessed him. This is a mixed blessing -- the dragon-demon was a family curse of sorts, passing down from father to son, possessing the next in line when the last died. It gave powers -- incredible senses, the ability to change form and protect their land from invaders with intense magic -- but the price -- the blood of women -- was too much for Gavril to pay. Now, his homeland is defenseless for the first time, allowing Eugene Tielen, about to become emperor, the chance he needs to take revenge and claim the lands as part of his empire. Eugene, badly scarred in his fight with Gavril Drakhaoul, sends Gavril to an insane asylum, afraid that the dragon demon's parting words that he will go mad will come true. There his nightmares become reality. Meanwhile, his beloved Kiukiu, a spirit singer, is being used by a ruthless mage to communicate with the dead, and Astasia, now married to Eugene, is fighting her fears and need to find her proper place. And worse, Eugene, not content with being the emperor of the whole of Rossiyan Empire, wants to secure his power by becoming one with the Drakhaoul.

This newest chapter in the Tears of Artamon series is very interesting. Sarah Ash plays a lot with contrasts, and gives all of her characters details that make them feel quite real and sympathetic. Gavril starts off the book working side by side with his men, trying to rebuild their kastle, and is eventually taken to the asylum, where he is forced into a terrible choice. Eugene, even, though he is the antagonist, is not easily categorized as evil. He is filled with insecurities about his marriage, worries over his daughter, and he treats the people around him, mostly, with decency and respect. His government concentrates on tasks such as providing schooling for every child (and making sure that every child, by going to school, is guaranteed a good, filling meal) and improving the economy. Oddly enough, Ash reminds us of why dictatorships are so seductive. People have been having a bad time, someone comes in, takes over, makes the place better for everyone. But she also reminds us why they are evil -- Eugene is ruthless in his desire to put down any uprising, including one in Smarna, where Gavril was raised, and, of course, Eugene's desire to be possessed by the dragon-demon, despite Gavril's warnings that he will be forced to do horrible things.

Prisoner of the Iron Tower is a very strong second book. The problems that Gavril faces, while at first very personal, are very compelling. There are many outside forces who are meddling in the politics of the situation. A foreign power wants to use Andrei, who survived, as part of their plans to defeat Eugene. Kaspar Linnaius, a great alchemist who practices the most suspect types of magic, is determined to discover the roots of the Drakhaoul, which are very surprising.

This story mixes a lot of flavors. Adventure, a little mystery, espionage, intrigue. Astasia's homeland recalls Imperial Russia and its fall. While the fantasy elements are very strong, there's also a feel of historical adventure. It is a fascinating mix, and makes this fantasy stand out a little from many of its brothers.

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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