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The Lightstone    by David Zindell order for
by David Zindell
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Valashu Elahad is the seventh son of the king of Mesh, a warrior kingdom more famed for past glories than its present squabbling wars with neighboring cousins. In particular, one of Val's ancestors defeated dark angel Morjin (supposedly an immortal and the Lord of Lies) in battle, and wrested from him the Lightstone, 'greatest of all the stones of power'. For many years, it attracted pilgrim's from all over Ea to the family castle until it was stolen again by Morjin, ending a golden age and beginning the Age of the Dragon. Heroes later stole it from Morjin, after which the Lightstone disappeared.

The saga starts when Valashu is attacked by assassins while hunting with his elder brother and his best friend Maram - 'a big man with a big belly that pushed out ahead of him as if to knock any obstacles or lesser men from his path' - also a Delian prince, a womanizer, and a worrier about every potential danger in his path. Reminiscent of Frodo's early injury in Lord of the Rings, a poisoned arrow leaves Val permanently vulnerable to haunting dreams of Morjin's evil and visions of the Lightstone, portrayed here rather like the grail cup. Val shares with his dead grandfather (who dreamed of uniting all the Valari) something that is at once a great strength and - particularly for a warrior - a dangerous weakness. He has strong empathy with all living creatures, feels what they feel, and so cannot kill without suffering horrendously himself.

As the story opens, a delegation has arrived from King Kiritan of Alonia to the king of Mesh calling for knights from all the free lands to gather in Tria and join a quest to find the Lightstone, fulfill a prophecy, and hence stop Morjin, whose conquering armies are spreading across the continent and enslaving nations in its path. Though most - including his father and brothers - consider it a fool's errand, Val feels compelled to participate in this quest. Maram and Master Juwain, a healer of the Brotherhood, accompany him. It's a long journey to Tria, with many dangers along the way, and dreadful agents of Morjin on their trail. They pass through the Black Bog, which connects their world with a parallel - and foul - one, and rescue a Sarni woman warrior, an archer named Atara Manslayer, who joins their fellowship and wins Val's love.

They encounter the small Lokilani of the Forest, and later are rescued from Morjin's Stonefaces by a white haired warrior named Kane, whom Val mistrusts but reluctantly accepts into the group. They reach Tria, where they're joined by a singer named Alphanderry and a herbalist named Liljana. Along the way they find gelstei - great stones of power - of different colors and attributes. They fight monsters, talk to Sea People and journey by boat to the Island of the Swans, inhabited by a peaceful, gentle folk whose leader, the Lady of the Lake, tests Valashu and gives him the Sword of Light, so setting the stage for the next phase of this Quest for the Lightstone.

I enjoyed this first in a new fantasy series. Though there were many resonances from other sagas (Tolkien's and Arthurian legend in particular), Valashu's extreme empathy is an unusual and interesting twist, as are many details like the Valari's use of blazing diamonds in their armor. I am curious to see where these seven heroes and heroines journey next and what perils they face.

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