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Banewreaker: Volume One of the Sundering    by Jacqueline Carey order for
by Jacqueline Carey
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jacqueline Carey is the author of the extraordinary Kushiel trilogy, that blends historical and erotic fantasy. In her new Sundering series, she has taken a more traditional approach, with a conflict involving gods, immortals, and various races - including the elven-like 'Ellyl', brutish 'Fjeltroll', 'Were', dwarves and men. What makes Carey's world and story unusual this time is a moral ambiguity. Despite the fact that characters on both sides of the conflict are (at least initially) certain of the rightness of their cause, it's not black and white to the reader, who only sees shifting shades of grey.

Though it takes a while for Carey to sketch out her vast panorama of a world of Urulat, once captured by the story, it becomes very hard to put the book down. The gods are the 'Seven Shapers' - Haomane, lord of thought; Arahila who rules the heart; Satoris whose gift is procreation; Neheris who rules high places; Meronin of the deep seas; Yrinna who gives abundance; and Oronin with death in his train. While six Shaped Urulat, Satoris conversed with dragons, hungering for their knowledge. Haomane Shaped the Ellylon, and when men warred upon them, demanded that Satoris withdraw his gift of procreation from mankind. Satoris' refusal led to the 'Shaper's War', with all his siblings siding with his elder brother. The world was sundered, the six Shapers isolated on Torath, and Satoris wounded and hounded to his dark refuge of Gorgantum. Haomane Shaped and empowered three 'Counselors' to attack his brother, while Satoris allied with the Fjeltroll and Were. He Shaped, and made immortal, his own 'Three' from those 'who shared the pain of betrayal, who understood what it was to rage against an unfair destiny'.

Tanaros is the General, Vorax the organizer, and half-breed Ushahin the 'Dreamspinner'. Sartoris rouses them to action against Haomane's 'Prophecy' which seems to foretell their own Lord's doom, 'When the unknown is made known, when the lost weapon is found, when the marrow-fire is quenched and Godslayer is freed, when a daughter of Elterrion weds a son of Altorus, when the Spear of Light is brought forth and the Helm of Shadows is broken'. Gradually, through this first volume, we see these foretellings unfold, despite the Three's attempts to prevent them. But they do suceed in interrupting the prophesied wedding, kidnapping Cereline, Lady of the Ellylon and bringing her to dark, stark Gorgantum. Another of their plots involves the sorceress Lilias and her beloved dragon Calandor, who prepare for war. And, unbeknownst to Sartoris, Haomane's Counselor Malthus unleashes a quest from the heart of the Unknown Desert, involving a young Yarru, 'the Bearer', who must make choices.

There's a bit of the Persephone legend to this first volume of the Sundering, as Cerelinde slowly develops feelings towards her captors, in particular Tanaros. And, though the Bearer's quest bears some resemblance to Tolkien's Fellowship, the author tantalizes her readers with the choice that he is to make, between opposing factions that both attract our sympathy. Carey paints her epic on a broad canvas, peopled by fascinating individuals from a variety of races, and spanning the ages. Banewreaker is a brilliant beginning, which left me anxious for more.

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