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Anselm Audley
Earthlight, Simon & Schuster, 503 pages

Anselm Audley
Anselm Audley was born in 1982. He attended Millfield School and then moved on to St John's College, Oxford, taking a course in Ancient and Modern History. He lives in Dorset.

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A review by Rob Kane

To get an idea of the setting for Anselm Audley's first novel, take Arrakis from Frank Herbert's Dune, and then invert it. Heresy takes place on the planet of Aquasilva which is covered in a pan-planetary ocean thousands of miles deep. Clan-ruled cities lay behind high walls and aether shields in order to remain protected against the great storms that ravage sea and land, and the Great Houses plot and scheme to enrich themselves on trade. The world is a technological-medieval society in much the same fashion as Dune. Under the sea large submarines, mantas, transport valuable cargo, while on land kings and emperors ruled in a monarchic society.

On Aquasilva, iron is the most precious of commodities, in great demand by nations and clans that allow them to manufacture weapons to wage wars. So it is a great relief to the inhabitants of Lepidor, a city in decline, that a large iron vein has been discovered within the city's territory. Cathan, the young escount of Clan Lepidor, departs for the merchant City of Taneth to inform his father of the find. If a contract can be negotiated with one of the Tanethan Great Houses, then the profits from the iron trade could reverse Lepidor's decline. Little does Cathan know that this short voyage will turn into years spent away from home, as he learns about his past and talents, as well as dabbling in heresy.

Heresy, as defined in the book, is anything that goes against the teachings of the Domain, the religious order devoted to Ranthas, god of fire. The Domain is the dominant religious, political, and military forces on the planet, and is also hungry for more power. There are, not surprisingly, also religious orders of the other elements, air, water, land, as well as spirit and shadow. The Domain, however, is the dominant religion on the planet, having outlawed the other orders hundreds of years ago, killing their practitioners and gaining power through fear. One of more enjoyable parts of the book is in how Audley tells the history of the world and the rift between the religious orders. While the history is not overly complex, alternate versions of history exist, each faction holding up the version that best suits its own goals. It is interesting to watch how Cathan and his friends deal with this, and also interesting on the part of the reader to try and reason what the real history is.

A major portion of Cathan's journey, is spent at the Citidal, where one receives an education about history and heretical matters. The Citidal is the stronghold of followers of Shadow, and a place of training for its young recruits. It is here that Cathan meets and forges bonds of friendship with youth who come from all over the planet. Primarily, there is Ravenna, a powerful mage of Shadow whose identity is shrouded in mystery, and who is locked in endless bickering with Cathan. And also, Palatine, who has formidable talent as a leader and strategist, but remembers nothing of her past. The core of the book deals with these three characters as they learn more about themselves, their abilities, and their pasts. As the book progresses and the three characters grow, the relationship between them is ever-changing.

For those who, after reading Dune, had a desire for more politics, scheming, and backstabbing, Heresy might be just the book that you are looking for. In addition to the already mentioned religious conflicts, there is the more traditional scheming done by the Tanethann Great Houses in pursuit of riches and of the Domain in its quest for more power. The web of politics is very well done, especially when different plots all start to come around one focal point. The book also hints that the plots and scheming will become even deeper and widespread in the coming books, as Cathan and his friends Palatine and Ravenna will soon launch their own assault against the dominance of the Domain.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Cathan, which, for this story, seems a natural way of telling it. As Cathan is exploring the world, new settings and cultures are introduced and explained to him, and consequently to the reader well. Done properly, this method helps to better immerse the reader into the book. Instead of being an outsider to the world for whom the author has to continually stop and explain things, the reader can become as much an inhabitant of the world as the character. With the exception of a couple minor incidents where an unnecessary explanation is given, Audley does manage to tell a very good story which flows nicely.

Overall the story is well put together and effectively told, although there is one element of the story that seems a little bit unsatisfactory. The are a couple of points in the story where a character has a complete about-face of their personality, without any warning signals or reasons given thereafter. While I am sure that Audley may explain what has happened in later books, the sudden and drastic changes seem somewhat awkward. But, this is only a minor flaw in what is otherwise a well written book.

Copyright © 2002 Rob Kane

Robert learned to read with a litle help from Lloyd Alexander, and he hasn't stopped reading fantasy since then. No matter how busy life gets he can always find time for a good book.

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