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Brokedown Palace: A Tale from the East    by Steven Brust order for
Brokedown Palace
by Steven Brust
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (1986)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This rather rambling, slow-moving fantasy portrays four princes of Fenario, far to the east of the Dragaerian Empire, which is the setting for the author's wonderful Jhereg series. They live in an ancient, crumbling palace, built 'where the river of Faerie joined the North river'. Their father, the old king, has abdicated and the eldest brother, László, now rules. He takes his position - and the stewardship of realm and palace - very seriously. Next in line is Prince Andor, who seeks a purpose in life, followed by the huge and very strong Prince Vilmos who loves and cares for several norska as pets. Last, but never least, is the story's protagonist, the young and stubborn Prince Miklós.

The story begins inexplicably, after a violent attack by King László on his youngest brother, whom he leaves for dead - prompted, it seems, by László's whim to take over Miklós's room, but influenced by a warning from the Demon Goddess. Miklós drags his broken body into the River, expecting to die. Instead, he awakens where the River has carried him, lying on hard tree roots with a horse breathing into his face. It's a táltos (magical) horse named Bölk, that talks (rather like an oracle, with a great deal of ambiguity), and calls him master. Afraid to return home, Miklós asks Bölk to bear him to Faerie. On their way, they meet a girl named Devera, traveling in the opposite direction. Miklós spends years of hard servitude in Faerie, but also learns some magic.

In Miklós's absence, a tree begins to grow in his room, seeded by a few drops of his blood. László, who regrets what he did to his brother, takes a lover of mysterious origins named Brigitta, and is later engaged to marry the Countess of Mordfal. Then the youngest prince returns home for good, and Bölk tells him that he must defeat the Demon Goddess - but how? The main story is interspersed with fascinating vignettes of folktales, as it builds towards its inevitable conclusion. Bölk's final enigmatic words serve as a fitting summation - 'Some will always insist on holding on to the old, no matter what. Those who do not will need to know ... that their fight, always new, is always old as well.'

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