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The Fifth Sorceress
Robert Newcomb
Bantam UK, 896 pages

Justin Sweet
The Fifth Sorceress
Robert Newcomb
Robert Newcomb traveled widely in his youth as a member of the American Institute for Foreign Study, studying at the University of Southampton, England, and aboard a university-sponsored ship in the Mediterranean sea. After graduating from Colgate University with a B.A. in economics and a minor in art history, he enjoyed a successful career in business. He lives in Florida with his wife, a neuropsychologist and novelist herself.

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SF Site Review: The Fifth Sorceress

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

The book opens with the wizard Wigg on a ship. He and the crew have sailed for fifteen days, as far as anyone has managed to cross into the Whispering Seas. They put four women in a small, beat-up skiff and set them free. Four sorceresses who, despite the cruelties and depravations they have forced upon the people in their quest for power and darkest magics, the Directorate of wizards can not kill, for it is against their vows to murder.

So, they will exile them, set them in a boat with poor supplies and hope that they choose to go east, away from their homeland, perhaps even die naturally on the way. In either case, the Directorate expects to never see them again.

They were wrong. The sorceresses have made land, and in the intervening 327 years they have planned their revenge.

Meanwhile, the Directorate of Eutracia has set up a new government, a new way of life. Unaging thanks to their own magic, Wigg and his fellows try their best to help their endowed blood king rule and heal the people. Endowed blood means that the king has magic flowing in him, and thanks to the jewel of the Paragon, the king would be the most powerful wizard of all if they trained him. But they never do. Instead, they offer him a choice -- serve your thirty years on the throne, and become a wizard afterwards, and achieve the immortality and power that comes with it, or die of old age with your wives.

King Nicholas has decided to be the first king to choose becoming a wizard, and soon he will get his chance. His son, Tristan, is about to turn thirty, and Nicholas will be able to abdicate, turning over the throne as well as the paragon. Unfortunately Tristan, a nice, pleasant man, would rather be a solider than a king. He's not much for the books, he hates that his life is constantly dictated by others and he feels restless. He can't even find a woman that he would truly want to share his life with. Worse yet, when his (not even conceived yet) son turns thirty, Tristan has no choice but to follow his father into Wizardry. Simply put, he's a nice man turned slightly bratty at times by the fact he feels absolutely trapped.

Then the night of the Abdication ceremony comes and the sorceress's plans come to fruition. They attack, kidnapping Tristan's pregnant twin sister Shailiha, stealing the Paragon stone and forcing him to kill his own father. They also kill most of the wizards. Now Tristan and Wigg must fight against time, the very people who Tristan was supposed to rule (they think he's a vile murderer) and and bevy of vile creatures, including Blood Stalkers, to get back the Paragon and his sister, before she becomes the Fifth Sorceress.

Actually, I had an odd but interesting experience with The Fifth Sorceress. I read the second in the series, The Gates of Dawn, last October. I went into the first book knowing the basic destination. I just didn't know how I was going to get there. The journey is so well done, I didn't need the extra tension of not knowing how things were going to turn out to keep me going. Robert Newcomb's setting is really fabulous. There is wonder -- the Caves of the Paragon with its blood red waters and plate sized, glorious butterflies -- and there is horror, such as the blood stalker Ragnar, who you can't help feeling just a tad bad for, even as he commits some horrible, creepy action. This combination of the beautiful and the visceral gives The Fifth Sorceress a truly otherworldly feel.

Tristan himself is well-handled as a character. He's always quite likable, but at first, as I said, he does have moments of brattiness. Maybe brat is too strong a word, but his reluctance to take up his destiny and his ways of trying to avoid it do make him feel immature. He turns from this to a dark hero, as the weight of his losses, and the weight of the prophecy that surround him and his sister transform him. He is a very strong character, and his development along the whole book adds a great deal to the story.

Newcomb also handles the magic well. The azure glow to their blood gives a whole new meaning to the term "blue blood", and the contrast between the wizard's use of power and the sorceress's use of power is interesting.

I have to say that the Chronicles of Blood and Stone is an excellent adventure in High Fantasy. He creates a world of magic and adventure that gives me, at least, all that I require -- a coven of well realized and rounded characters, people that you love to hate, people whose camaraderie provides some good moments, and a strong adventure.

Copyright © 2003 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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