All too often Epic/High fantasy, for all the supposed imagination, is a genre rife with cliché, dark lords, magic, young innocents-who-inherit-power. Part of the appeal and the success of writers in this genre is an author’s ability to work within these clichés and craft something original, something that hasn’t quite been seen before or a combination of elements that have not been put together in quite the same way. For the most part, Sarah Ash succeeds in Lord of Snow and Shadows, the opening volume of The Tears of Artamon. The novel opens with portraitist, Gavril, the male innocent, painting a portrait of a royal for her upcoming betrothal. Immediately thereafter, Gavril is abducted and brought to his father’s homeland, where he learns he is the heir to the Azhkendir throne, he is Drakhaon. As Drakhaon, Gavril has chameleonlike blood running through his veins, which transforms him into an enormous dragon, great wings and breath fire included. The Azhkendir have been protected for many years through this special power of their leader and now turn to Gavril to take the throne and avenge his father’s murder.
Perhaps here I will point it my major problem with this novel. We don’t really get a sense of the type of person Gavril is before he his whisked away, so it was a bit difficult for me to fully sympathize with his sense of upheaval. On the one hand we only get to know Gavril as heir apparent, but on the other, there is no real emotional build up for the character, there is not alot to care about initially. That said, the sense of unbalance Gavril feels is palpable, he is learning about his identity just as we are, so perhaps this is an effective way to present him. As Gavril learns who he is, what he is, he learns also that part of the Clan’s way of life is avenging the death of his father, Lord Volkh . As a painter, this is something Gavril is very unfamiliar with, and though Ash may not have invested enough into Gavril’s life as a painter, it is pretty clear, and presented well, the juxtaposition between Gavril’s earlier life and who he is becoming. Gavril’s mentor in his education as Drakhaon is Kostya, a burly man-at-arms who was Gavril’s father’s closest confidant. While initially, Gavril seems to shun his duty and role as Clan ruler, he soon takes it to heart, not so much relishing the role, but taking full advantage. This is a bit of a departure for a lot of the fantasy out there, the innocent often broods for pages and chapters and books before taking his role as Lord to heart. While there is a bit of hesitation on Gavril’s part, Ash does well in allowing Gavril to accept his position and role as Lord Gavril, ruler of the Azhkendir.
The other primary “innocent” is Kiukiu, a maid of Gavril’s new kastel. Sarah Ash seemed more comfortable writing this character, she comes across a bit more sympathetic in her plight, if a bit too naive, even for her role as innocent. Kiukiu is the daughter of what many of her working peers considered to be a whore, and they tease and harrass her unrelentingly. She does form a bond with Gavril over the healing of a wounded Owl, the emblem of the Azhkendir enemies, the Arkhal. While Gavril accepts his role and eventually fits into it, Kiukiu has a more difficult time with all of the teasing and incessant
When Gavril arrives at the kastel, one of the first people who tries to sway him is his late father’s mistress, Lilias. While outwardly, she is gracious, beautiful and polite, the facade is fairly thin. Gavril is initially wooed by her beauty and charms, but learns to be wary of her in many ways. Lilias is pregnant with what many think to be Gavril’s step brother, and Lilias flat out says her son will contend for the throne. Kiukiu feels the brunt of Lilias’s anger, and is eventually cast out of the kastel.
While this novel works well as the opening novel in a series/saga, Ash brings a commendable measure of closure to the novel, though by no means is it self-contained. The world in this novel is well realized and there is much to look forward to in future volumes. At times the scenes are not altogether smooth in their transition, and as I said above, the characterization, particularly with Gavril, could have more depth. Those quibbles aside, I did enjoy this novel, there were a number of scenes that worked extremely well. With Lord of Snow and Shadows Sarah Ash has opened up an interesting fantasy saga, despite a couple of bumps, that looks promising and engaging.
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2003 Rob Bedford