Jude Fisher, Sorcery Rising (DAW, 2002)

Everyone comes to the Allfair...

Held on the supposedly neutral area of the Moonfell Plain, the Allfair is a time for trading and exhibitions, games and competition, dealmaking and negotiation.  The independent Norsemen of Eyra come in their longships, ready to trade sardonyx for silver, contract for ships, take part in games.  The repressive lords of the south, the Istrians, come to show off their own finery, to contract for wives, scheme and dicker, and play a long-standing game of one-upmanship with their enemies of old. The Footloose, vagabonds and travelers, nomads who journey across the world, have come to sell their minor charms of ill-tolerated magic, to tell stories and entertain in song and dance.

Saro Vingo, younger son of an Istrian lord, has journeyed to the Allfair with his father, to help take care of the horses which are their pride.  He dislikes his flamboyant, cruel brother, Tanto, and thinks little of his demanding father.  But family loyalty comes first.  Katla Aransen, already renowned at the age of nineteen for her exquisite weaponsmithing, has come with her family from Eyra to sell her weapons.  She would do anything for her family, but a streak of independence runs deep with her. Ravn Asharson, King of the North, has come to find a bride, to choose from the myriad daughters of Eyran shipbuilders and merchants, or Istrian lords.  And the mysterious albino sorcerer known as Virelai has journeyed with the Footloose, along with a strange black cat which holds unspeakable magic, and Rosa Eldi, Rose of the World, a woman of compelling beauty and capable of inspiring great lusts.  These people and more have come to the Allfair, and their paths will collide in violent, unexpected ways.

Magic is returning to the world...

It starts off badly.  Katla inadvertently commits an act of extreme sacrilege in the eyes of the Istrians, one which could earn her death.  Forced to hide and disguise her appearance, she still persists in trying to enjoy the fair.  Meanwhile, she's attracted other attentions.  Istrian lords plot amongst themselves, jockeying for money and prestige.  Virelai sells maps leading to the fabled island of Sanctuary, gambling his own future and freedom on the manipulation of others.  But can he sell something which isn't truly his, something such as Rosa Eldi?  Lord Tycho of the Istrians is willing to find out, and he'll even trade upon his own daughter's future as a result.

The pieces are all in motion.  As separate paths begin to overlap, and magic simmers beneath the surface, and mysteries make themselves known, the Allfair becomes tense and violent, leading to a random death.  This in turn leads to more chaos and tension, until finally, on the night when King Ravn is to choose his bride, everything erupts, plunging the Allfair into unprecedented hostilities.  Seduction turns into assault, assault into flight, flight into rescue, rescue into capture, capture into burning, as one man's inability to control his lusts dooms numerous others to a new path.  Before it's over, the King will have his bride, a traitor will be killed, fortunes will be won and lost, and Katla herself will be in mortal danger.

But it doesn't end there, for this is the tip of the iceberg.  Something ancient and evil is stirring, and it seeks freedom.  It seeks the return of its long lost sister.  It seeks revenge.  If Katla survives the events of the night, she may never be whole.  Virelai's manipulations may just enslave himself.  And war is on the horizon.

Sorcery is rising...

Sorcery Rising is an excellent beginning to an epic fantasy story, filled with intricate plotting, complex conspiracies, devious maneuvering, affairs of the heart and body, visceral combat, and lush imagery.  It manages to mix the ferocious toughness of the North with the repressive theocratic patriarchy of the Middle East, evoking both old Norse myth and the exotic lure of the Arabian Nights for a severe, yet compelling culture clash. That it can set up so much and keep things from getting overcrowded is a good sign; that I finished and immediately wanted more is a better sign.  Jude Fisher is already well-known for her status as the worldwide editor for J.R.R. Tolkien's works; she was also associated with Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the big screen.  She has been associated with the British science fiction industry for nearly two decades, and in Sorcery Rising she demonstrates that she's more than up for the challenge of writing epic fantasy, not just editing it.  This is a series to look out for, and I highly recommend it.  Let's hope the sequel is on the horizon. 

[Michael M. Jones]