|Submitted by Sue Bailey|
(Sep 03, 1999)
This is the story of Bron, the last scion of an ancient family, still telling the tale of its loss a thousand years ago, when its greatest treasure was taken from it and put to use to hold the human race in check. It's the story of Liliane, a woman seeking power in a world dominated by men. It's the story of an all-powerful Order, the Guardians who control minds and enforce their arbitrary laws absolutely. And above all, it's the story of the Stone, the heart of the world, Bron's desire, Liliane's master, the greatest prize there is.
Victoria Strauss has done something very rare here, taking a vast range of the conventions of
fantasy literature, from Wolfram von Eschenbach's Grail to the 'avenging son of a dying house'
theme, and achieving something totally new with them. Bron is no sword and sorcery hero; his
childish vow, to regain the Stone his ancestor lost, is put aside in favour of something far more
subtle, far more dangerous in its intent, taking him to the very heart of the regime he has sworn
Strauss's Mindpower is not the usual deus ex machina way to get oneself out of trouble, but
an integral part of the plot, which she does not abandon when it might make life easier to do
so. Liliane's heartsensing, the reading of emotion rather than conscious thought, makes this is
a plausible world; we are dealing with real knowledge of how the human mind works, rather than just another fantasy convention.
The ultimate fascination for me was the Guardians themselves. Imagine the Spanish
Inquisition with the power to read minds, to seek out heterodoxy not only in belief, but in
thoughts and actions, down to making a plough of an incorrect length. Reading this at times
made me feel physically sick with fear.
It is rare that I will love a book and look forward to its sequel. Too often, the second book is
lacking that spark of creativity that has made its predecessor so good. Not so here: I cannot wait to get my hands on The Garden of the Stone (not due out until the end of this year, but
you can read extracts from it here.) The Arm doesn't finish the story; it's not simply that there
are a couple of loose ends left to tie a sequel to if the sales were good enough, but that you
want to phone the publishers to make sure you're not missing some pages. And if The Garden is even half as good, I shall be very happy indeed.