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Path of Fate
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Roc, 384 pages

Path of Fate
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Diana Pharaoh Francis grew up on a cattle ranch in northern California. She has a Ph.D. in Victorian literature and currently teaches literature and writing at the University of Montana-Western. She lives in Montana with her husband, son and an oversized lapdog. Path of Fate is her first novel.

Diana Pharaoh Francis Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

In the land of Kodu Riik, Reisil is a tark, a healer. Her training newly completed, she has returned to the town where she grew up, hoping she'll be accepted as its official tark. Orphaned in babyhood, passed from foster family to foster family, she has never really known what it's like to have a true home. Being a tark offers her the thing for which she has always longed: a place in the world, a chance to belong.

Then one day a goshawk swoops down from the sky, and greets her mind to mind. Stunned, Reisil realizes that she has been chosen by the Lady Amiya, the goddess of Kodu Riik, to be ahalad-kaaslane, one of a special group of people psychically bonded to sentient animal companions. Ahalad-kaaslane serve as the land's protectors; as the Lady's servants, owing allegiance to none but Amiya herself, they must forswear the bonds of family and community, and wander constantly from place to place. They must live, in other words, the very sort of lonely, rootless existence that Reisil has been trying so hard to escape.

Horrified, Reisil rejects the Lady's gift -- and vows that she'll keep on rejecting it, no matter how stubbornly the goshawk, Saljane, pursues her. But larger events are afoot. A peace is being brokered between war-weary Kodu Riik and its long-time enemy, Patverseme. Many in both countries desire an end to the fighting, but for others, peace feels too much like surrender. When a group of traitors (or patriots, as they consider themselves) implements a plan to derail the treaty process by stealing the daughter of the Patverseme emissary, Reisil realizes that Saljane offers the best possibility of tracking the kidnappers. Still deeply unwilling, but unable to deny the demands of conscience, she accepts the role of ahalad-kaaslane, and joins the rescue party in a desperate pursuit -- a choice that sets her on a path of deadly peril and astonishing self-discovery, while the fate of two kingdoms hangs in the balance.

At first glance, many of the elements of Path of Fate feel familiar, from the mind-bonded animals to the medieval-seeming setting to the protagonist reluctant to accept her gifts. But these familiar tropes are enlivened by a varied cast of well-drawn characters and gripping, fast-paced action -- and, as the book proceeds, turn out to be not so familiar after all, for Francis takes them in surprising directions and gives them unusual twists, drawing the reader into a world that is much more complex than it initially appears and subtly thwarting expectations about where the plot will go next.

Reisil is an enormously sympathetic heroine, her difficult childhood and the hope she has invested in training as a tark lending poignancy to her struggle with Amiya's gift. The process by which she and Saljane slowly remedy the damage done by her initial rejection is sensitively portrayed -- a deeper-than-usual treatment of the theme of the reluctant heroine, for Reisil's reluctance isn't just a plot device, but has real consequences for her and for the world around her. There's also an interesting take on magic; and the suspenseful confrontation at the climax not only isn't what the reader has been anticipating, but opens out a new and fascinating view of the enemy Patversemese and the dark god they follow. This shift of emphasis is in keeping with what is, perhaps, the overall theme of the book: that nothing, good or bad, is exactly what you think. A gift is a curse if you don't want it. A patriot can be a traitor, and vice versa, depending on your outlook. The magic that heals can also, terribly, do the opposite. Even those who choose the dark do so for reasons that make sense to them, and good people are sometimes capable of atrocity in service of their ideals.

Though only the first of a trilogy, Path of Fate draws to a nicely self-contained conclusion. But rich possibilities have been established for future action, and I'll be looking forward to finding out where Reisil goes next.

Copyright © 2003 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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