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Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage: two moon gifEos Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-380-81113-8
You know the ancient adage: don't judge a book by its cover. This especially applies to The Wild Machines. Its attractive cover depicts the bold and beautiful warrior-woman, Ash, silvery tresses streaming as she drives a chariot across the pyramid-studded Egyptian sands.

Book: Mary Gentle, The Wild Machines While the Ferae Natura Machinae, "the Wild Machines," wield their influence across Europe from this exotic locale, Ash never travels there in this book. Her mercenary company would have been forced to eat the horses long before leaving France. For the armies of the Visigoth Empire have smashed Europe's resistance, plunging the conquered lands into unnatural night. Famine, pestilence and despair abound.

Only Burgundy, cultural and military diadem of Europe, struggles to stand fast, battered but unbeaten, still basking in the sun's warmth. The beleaguered duchy's fate lies in the hands of its ruler, Duke Charles, critically wounded and trapped behind the walls of Dijon while the Visigoth legions blight the surrounding countryside under the leadership of the Faris, Ash's twin sister. Like Ash, the Faris hears the Ferae Natura Machinae, the mysterious and dreaded machinery that seeks the extermination of humankind. Unlike Ash, she heeds them.

Fresh from the horrors of Carthage, and the apocalyptic seductions of the Wild Machines, Ash must decide whether to lead her men to near-certain doom in an attempt to lift Dijon's siege. For if the great city falls, and Duke Charles dies, humanity will descend into eternal darkness.

Book: Mary Gentle, GruntsDon't judge this book by its grandiose back-cover synopsis, either. The cover, front and back, functions as a tapestry thrown over the filth. And I'm not just referring to the profanity, which averages one word in every hundred. War's gruesome details explode across almost every page.

But never let it be said that I don't give credit where it's due. The constant bloody barrage makes Gentle's work unique in the fantasy genre. Usually, the hero's quest can be described as a series of conversations, punctuated at two or three critical junctures by a battle. The Wild Machines presents the exact opposite: a couple of key conversations interspersed among the battles as Ash quests for the answer to why Burgundy remains the only region still blessed by the sun. In my opinion, this inverted structure weakens the plot.

"Why Burgundy?" Ash repeatedly asks. "Who cares?" I respond, my mind's eye glazed from the imagined carnage. But if endless blood and guts and vulgarity float your literary boat, then my opinion won't stop you from reading this installment -- and I'd be too battle-fatigued to argue with you, anyway.

Kim D. Headlee

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