|Patricia Briggs: Raven's Shadow|
Ace Books (Paperback), 0-441-01187-X
A new novel by Patricia Briggs guarantees a good reading time. Raven's Shadow proves no exception to this rule even as it lures readers down some of modern fantasy's less expected paths.
On his way home from the wars, an ex-soldier named Tier rescues Seraph, a young woman gifted with the magical powers of a dying race known as the Travelers. As it happens, Tier possesses a little Traveler magic himself, although born a baker's son -- but nothing that would alarm the superstitious citizens of his hometown.
Together they settle on a farm not far from Tier's hometown, raising a family and putting their respective pasts behind them. But the past refuses to stay buried. The magical gifts of the Travelers visit themselves on Tier and Seraph's children. This brings the family into the orbit of a sinister cabal of would-be magicians with designs on the Empire.
In Tier, Briggs creates another of her delightfully atypical heroes -- likeable, regular guys who happen to be more than they give themselves credit for. Despite her ostensible "domestication" as a farmer's wife, Seraph retains all the edginess of a woman of uncomfortable talents and hidden responsibilities. But her sharpness never reads shrill.
Rinnie, Lehr and Jes, the couple's three very different children, come across as real kids in a tough spot, who nevertheless must contend with the eternal issues of growing up. Neatly sidestepping the usual "child in peril" and "plucky tot" clichés, Briggs uses the children's personalities and abilities to meet the challenges their family -- and the Traveler race -- face. They might be targeted for exploitation by the dark forces corrupting the empire, but they aren't victims.
They aren't the only young people at risk, either. Half a continent away, in the imperial palace, a young man with the title of emperor struggles to distinguish friend from foe while suffering under the curse of a terrible specter. At the same time, the cabal works to corrupt the best and brightest of the young nobles in his court.
Normally, I like my fantasy straight -- gripping tales about complex and interesting people I care about in a fabulous setting. No cheap shots at my supposed maternal instincts, please. Playing the "kiddie card" generally causes me to throw the offending book against the nearest wall.
But instead of stereotypes and knee-jerk sentimentality, Briggs shows the person growing inside each child. Better yet, she makes you want to know the man or woman that child will become. In her capable hands, the transition from child to adult becomes a willful, creative process. That sense of creation underscores and adds resonance to the novel's other, skillfully developed themes -- without diminishing one iota of the story's narrative drive or its appeal for those long past the age of 21.
A great novel for grown-ups. I look forward to the next installment in the series.
Jean Marie Ward
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