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Devil's Bargain    by Judith Tarr order for
Devil's Bargain
by Judith Tarr
Order:  USA  Can
Roc, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Judith Tarr continues her alternate history of the Plantagenets, switching from the focus on Prince John in Pride of Kings to his brother King Richard and the Crusades in Devil's Bargain. As usual she surrounds the known historical figure with magical characters. In this case, one of them is Richard's mother Eleanor, a powerful sorceress who is ready to sell her soul to support the ambitions of her favorite son. Eleanor forges a dangerous alliance with the Old Man of the Mountain, the devil in the title.

The author also gives Richard a half-sister. Pagan Sioned is the bastard daughter of King Henry and an enchantress princess of Gwynedd. Her mother gave Sioned reluctant leave to travel to the Holy Land, where she aids her brother's cause as a healer. There she encounters, and falls for, the lord Saphadin, a prince of mages on a diplomatic mission for his brother Saladin. He offers her training in magic, and tells her to 'Don't give back. Give in return. That's the price and recompense of what we are.'

In addition to the plotting of Eleanor and the master of assassins, there is trouble and treachery amongst the ranks of both Franks and infidels. And alongside the high romance between Sioned and Saphadin, there are the antics of wonderful minor characters, like Mustafa, who is no Christian but still gives absolute loyalty to Richard. Of course, Sioned is imperilled and rescued, but then takes on a task of even greater risk at her brother's request, against an enemy guarded by the potent Seal of Solomon.

Tarr delivers her usual mix of magic, alternate history, romance, divided loyalties and danger. Devil's Bargain is an enthralling read.

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