Select one of the keywords
The Prize in the Game    by Jo Walton order for
Prize in the Game
by Jo Walton
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Prize in the Game is set in the same alternate historical world as the author's previous excellent duo (The King's Peace and The King's Name) that developed a unique re-telling of Camelot Indeed it delves back into the lives of the most intriguing ancillary characters in the latter - lovers Conal and Emer and Conal's seer grandfather Inis (those around Inis try hard not to ask him questions, which pull him into the madness of seeing too many alternate futures.)

Inis is the father of King Conary of Oriel and the grandfather of three cousins being fostered in rivalry by Conary - Conal, Darag and Leary. The fact that the king favours Darag has poisoned the relationship between Darag and Conal, though it is mostly Conal who takes it personally, since Darag feels the pull of a merciless destiny. The lovely princess Elenn of Connat, her sister Emer, and Ferdia of Lagin (who loves Darag) are also being fostered in Oriel.

The story opens with the news that Darag and Ferdia have obtained Conary's permission to take up arms (and adulthood) early, it having been declared a 'fortunate day'. Of course, Conal and Leary demand the same treatment, as does Emer who offers to be Conal's charioteer. Afterwards, Emer and Conal continue to train together and fall deeply in love. They have in common a dislike for very difficult parents - Conal's father Amagien continually belittles him, and Emer's mother Maga manipulates all around her in a game of power.

At the Feast of Bel, Conal and Emer defend Oriel in an action against raiders (including Atha ap Gren) that results in the accolade of Victor for Conal, but this in turn leads to the three contenders for the throne of Oriel being sent to the other kingdoms to compete in contests assigned by their rulers. In another sub-plot, a careless act of Leary's, and past history in Oriel, lead to a curse against the kingdom from the goddess Rhianna. Of course, Maga soon learns of it and makes plans to exploit the situation.

Jo Walton brings Celtic legends alive again in an imagined world that hints of many past heroes. Details add richness, like the heads hung on the sides of chariots or the mantel, 'vanquished brave enemies, protecting the hearth', or the teaching of law, poetry, priesthood and kingship at the nine holy hills of 'Rathadun of the Kings'. And in this story, the author shows us different kinds of strengths in its women - Maga's cruel, obsessive power; Emer's honor, loyalty and love; and Elenn's deep capacity for suffering and survival.

The seeds of tragedy have been sown. Connat masks an invasion of Oriel as a raid, but is held back by heroic actions of Darag, Atha and a disguised Emer. Maga ruthlessly uses Elenn's beauty as a lure to send champions against them. As events unfold, Conal renounces his hatred of Darag and concludes that the prize is not worth the game. Unfortunately others still play it. Whether you've enjoyed the author's previous books or not, The Prize in the Game can stand on its own as an engrossing tale of historical fantasy, not to be missed.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Fantasy books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews