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Patrick Welch
Twilight Times Books, 186 pages

Patrick Welch
Patrick Welch received a B.A. and M.A. in English from Bowling Green State University. He has worked variously as a dock worker, insurance salesman, free-lance writer and assistant store manager. After two decades writing advertising and articles. He returned to fiction seven years ago. Patrick now has eight books published and currently works as a teacher, musician, and writer.

Patrick Welch Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Casebook of Doakes and Haig
SF Site Review: Westchester Station
SF Site Review: The Body Shop
SF Site Review: The Thirteenth Magician

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

Have you ever tried an unfamiliar food for the first time and found that, though the flavour was not at all unpleasant, you weren't sure what you thought of it? I felt that way on reading Cynnador: it's unusual in several ways, which is almost always a plus point for me; but -- though the book is certainly not bad -- I'm undecided as to just how well it all works in the end.

What's so unusual about Cynnador, then? For a start, although it takes place in one of high fantasy's traditional settings -- a mercantile city in desert lands -- the story is complete in a single volume of under 200 pages, which is pretty rare in itself these days. More than that, the structure is unusual: the first 40 pages comprise a prologue and thirteen "preludes" before the main story starts. These preludes are a series of vignettes introducing Cynnador and its people: some are more directly related to the main story than others; some characters in the vignettes appear later in the book, others don't, and some characters in the main tale are only referred to in the preludes. What emerges is a picture of a mysterious city that somehow looks after itself, a place in which magic is difficult to cast, but that has some magic of its own.

Naturally enough, Cynnador the book uncovers the mysteries of Cynnador the city, but not in the way you might expect. For much of its length, the story follows the criss-crossing trails of about nine or ten characters, including a wizard in search of old bones; a woman who can hypnotize people with her dance; the spy for an army waiting to invade the city; and the "Salt Queen" who controls the supply of that precious commodity. It's all fascinating stuff, in the vein of a TV series like Lost, as we realize that Character A encountered Character B here; that Character C is searching for Character D -- and we know who that is, so just wait till they meet... It does become hard to keep track of who knows whom, and who has done what (having characters with such similar names as Bhuran, Brydan and Breev does not help), but not so much that it becomes unenjoyable.

Eventually, circumstances cause a number of characters to enter the catacombs beneath Cynnador, which are said to be protected by demons -- and there the truth is revealed. But there's more than just a twist: Patrick Welch handles the twist in an unusual way, as the characters don't grasp its significance; they're more interested in something else that they find. For once, this is not a quest for the true nature of the world; that's just a by-product, and one of no perceived use to those who discover it. That's why I'm undecided about Cynnador: I like that Welch has chosen such a route; but the effect of the pay-off is odd enough that I still can't make up my mind how I feel about it.

Cynnador isn't all about its ending, though; there is also much to enjoy along the way. Besides the plotting, I was particularly taken with the depictions of magic. Our collector of bones wants enough to make a whole body that he can bring to life; but in this world, the resurrected tend to demand equal rights, so the wizard has the idea of building a skeleton from many different bodies, diluting the souls enough that his creation will be obedient to him. Scrying for stolen items is also not as straightforward as it might be, as you have to start with the owner's nearest possession and work your way outwards -- especially time-consuming when you're sitting in the owner's house, surrounded by her belongings! Little touches like this just add to the fun.

At this point I could say that I'd recommend Cynnador despite my reservations; except they're not really reservations, not in the sense of "reasons to avoid the book." On the contrary, the twists and turns are reasons to seek the book out. Whatever I end up thinking about Cynnador, I am sure it won't be the only work of Patrick Welch's that I read, because it's the kind of book that makes you keen to find out what else its author has done.

Copyright © 2007 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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