I read this book long enough ago that I barely remember it, but I know that I very much enjoyed it, and wish to read the whole trilogy again. Sadly, m...moreI read this book long enough ago that I barely remember it, but I know that I very much enjoyed it, and wish to read the whole trilogy again. Sadly, my copies are in storage 3000 miles away, so I will have to acquire new ones. Ru Emerson seems to have disappeared after 2000 or so; I hope these books are reprinted someday.(less)
I came to "Eolyn", oddly enough, by a Google Image Search, where I found the cover art, was intrigued, and decid...moreHere is the review I posted to Amazon:
I came to "Eolyn", oddly enough, by a Google Image Search, where I found the cover art, was intrigued, and decided to investigate, and I am very, very glad that I did so. "Eolyn" is the sort of book that comes along rarely in this genre, a book from a small press by a little-known author that while paying solid tribute to the forms of the past manages to chart interesting territory nonetheless. Downloading the Kindle sample, it took only two pages into Chapter 2 before I hit the quote that is the title of my review and was hooked. I purchased the Kindle version, but when you read the rest of my review, you will understand why I am planning on also purchasing the hardcover edition.
A cautionary note: The cover is of the sort of artwork that I would tend to expect to find on a young adult fantasy novel, and while at first the title character's age is unclear, it is clear that she is young, and soon we find that she is nine years old at the beginning of the book. This may lead some to conclude that this is a children's book. It is, put bluntly, not; Eolyn's early years are merely the set-up. The bulk of the story takes place after Eolyn reaches the age of 20, and adult themes of sexism, sexuality, coercion, and violence feature centrally in the plot.
I believe that I am going to have to read this book several times over to fully grasp its elegance.
In the grand tradition of many previous fantasy novels, our heroine occupies a world in which the gods had granted magic of various forms to the people, but bound them not to allow their rulers to practice magic, so as to avoid the conjoining of both magical and civil power in one person. This stricture is broken, and Tzeremond, a mage of great ambition and even greater enmity teaches Prince Kedehen in the ways of High Magic. Battle lines are drawn, war erupts, and in the process, the Old Orders of both Mages (male) and Magas (female), who have risen up in protest of the new King's magical power, are utterly destroyed. The few who escape death go into hiding or flee to foreign lands. The practice of magic by women becomes outlawed by the King and Tzeremond, and a new age of patriarchal domination follows. The King, however, has captured the Maga Briana, and coerced her into bearing his child, Akmael.
In the purges that follow the war, where Kedehen and Tzeremond seek to ensure that all women with the gift of magic are hunted down and killed, Eolyn's mother feels the frustration of remaining in hiding, and leaves the village where she had lain hidden in order to confront her fate, but she is discovered, and the King's Riders raze her village. Nine-year-old Eolyn, warned by her now-dead mother's spirit, escapes to the forest, where she encounters the Maga Doyenne Ghemena, who while living in hiding deep within the forest, tutors Eolyn in the ways of the Old Orders. During these years, she befriends a boy of her own age who she meets in the forest unbeknownst to Ghemena, a boy who is also study magic under the Mage Tzeremond, a boy who she knows only by the name Achem, but who is in reality, the Prince Akmael, who witnessed the death of his mother at the hands of one of her fellow Magas. The two are parted for several years when they each must dedicate their teenage years to their respective studies in High Magic. Eventually, Eolyn must leave the forest and face the task of restoring the magic of the Magas to her people.
True to her mother's words, during nearly every stage of Eolyn's life, the path of her life is a wandering path that brings her to new experiences, and each step reveals the way to the next stage of her life. Eolyn falls in with a band of rebel practitioners of magic, and though she conceals the extent of her magical abilities from them, she is uncovered during a festival in the King's City where she is forced to choose between allowing a comrade to perish, or reveal her powers. She is arrested, and taken to the King, whom she discovers to be her beloved Achem, but twisted beyond recognition. Akmael releases her against the wishes of Tzeremond, and here we begin to see that Akmael is playing a deeper game than Tzeremond, who believes his former pupil in in perfect agreement with his ambitions, suspects.
It is not long before Eolyn, against the deepest wishes of her teacher, becomes the heart of an armed rebellion against Akmael, a rebellion led by her brother, Ernan, who managed to escape the destruction of their village so long ago, and has returned to his homeland a seasoned warrior. It is less long still until Akmael marches in full force with his army of Knights and Mages to crush them once and for all. But, what is the true game which Akmael seeks to win? What role will the bonds between Akmael and Eolyn ultimately play? And who was Eolyn's mother?
The threads woven throughout "Eolyn" are not, as with most other books in this genre, neatly tied off and snipped, and they do not form a perfect tapestry depicting "Happily Ever After". Some of the most important characters in the story are portrayed as complex personae with ambiguous morality and hidden motivations that are never revealed. It is this aspect of the book that readers will find at once disturbing and disturbingly realistic. It is hard to determine who truly "wins" in the end, if anyone can indeed said to "win" in the end, but perhaps the genre has seen enough of Fantasy, per se, enough of "Happily Ever After", and perhaps it is this which lends the book more strength and poignancy than most.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and it has already earned a place on my "Most Treasured" shelf. It is in a class of its own, and I hope to read more soon from Karin Rita Gastreich. A sequel, "High Maga", is planned for release in 2013. (less)