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Tides of Darkness    by Judith Tarr order for
Tides of Darkness
by Judith Tarr
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Judith Tarr has finally provided her impatient admirers with another novel in the Avaryan fantasy series, after a long lapse of five years. The first five told the story of the Sun God, the almost immortal Emperor Estarion (powerful mage and controller of the Gates between worlds) and his descendants, and the magical realms where they lived and struggled. Estarion has now retired to live in obscurity. He has left his Empire, and Rule of the Gates, to his great grand-daughter Merian.

Indaros is the heir to the princely house of Han-Gilen. He is a wastrel, unwilling to accept any responsibility, and caring only for his pursuit of pleasure. But he is also a powerful, if untrained, mage, and can open Gates without the magical workings normally required. Unfortunately, in a drunken frolic with three expensive courtesans, he opens Gates to two worlds; one pleasant, with fountains flowing with wine, but the second a ruined wasteland. Returning to the pleasant first world, in revulsion he turns the fountain into ice and the wine into water. Making changes to a world beyond a Gate is anathema, and alerts the Guardians who capture Daros and take him to judgment before the Lady Merian.

Unwilling to take his life because of his unknown talents, Merian sentences him to exile, in service to the Emperor Estarion, presently herding sheep in distant Northern lands. As Indaros learns to control himself and his powers, he and Estarion discover that a vast tide of darkness is sweeping through the worlds beyond the Gates. Trying to find out more, Estarion is stranded in a world embattled by the darkness. He finds himself in one of the small kingdoms strung out along the River Nile, in ancient Earth, and there falls in love for only the second time in his long life, with the widowed Queen. Meanwhile, the forces of darkness have attacked the Golden Realm, and Merian and her circle of mages is barely holding out against them. She, and Daros, whom she meets again and falls in love with in a dreamworld, must risk all to turn back the darkness. Indeed, Daros must become part of the Dark to defeat it.

The book stands alone, though I hope that new readers will be tempted to go back to the first of the series. Tarr's strengths of characterization and brisk story telling are well known, but I feel her true genius is in her intuitive grasp of the tiny details which will anchor her exotic worlds, of history and of fantasy, to reality. Highly recommended.

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