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The Diviner    by Melanie Rawn order for
by Melanie Rawn
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Daw, 2011 (2011)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Melanie Rawn, well known in the fantasy world for her wonderful Dragon Prince, Dragon Star and Exiles series, now brings fans a standalone novel, The Diviner. It's a prequel to The Golden Key - which I have not read, so I can attest that this novel works well on its own.

Rawn's first protagonist (also the most likeable) gets the most time on stage. Azzad al-Ma'aliq flees to the desert after he accidentally escapes the mass slaughter of his clan (down to babes in arms and all the family's retainers and supporters) on the orders of Sheyqa Nizzira. The only other survivor is Nizzira's fiftieth grandchild, born to an al-Ma'aliq daughter-in-law.

Azzad comes close to death in the desert but is rescued by the Shagara, who have healing powers and fashion magic through subtle charms, though the makers pay a high price for their talents. Their young leader befriends Azzad. When he leaves, Azzad carries many Shagara protections with him. He settles in a mountainside town, works hard and prospers, partly due to the amorous nature of his stallion Khamsin.

Azzad marries well and happily, and he and his family survive despite a continual onslaught of assassins, thanks to the Shagara trinkets that protect them. And he gives back to the Shagara friends who helped him so much. But then Azzad takes an opportunity for vengeance that arouses Sheyqa Nizzira's fierce enmity once more.

Azzad's son Alessid follows a different path, considering the father he had always adored a fool for his actions. Alessid sees the world 'as a place filled with people to be used.' He marries into the Shagara to access their magic and uses his own children to further his goals - of conquest and vengeance. He succeeds but at the cost of his marriage. And many of the Shagara go into voluntary exile to protest 'the perversion of Shagara ways.'

Alessid's favorite daughter is Mairid and her son Qamar is 'Azzad all over again.' He is devastated to discover that he's inherited the Shagara talent that will lead to his early death. The final portion of the book is Qamar's story. Intent on drinking himself to death, he meets Solanna, whose visions have led her to him. Qamar chooses not to die and finds his purpose in life; he becomes the Diviner, leaving a magical legacy for future generations.

Though The Diviner could have been written as three novels (and Azzad's section was the most engaging and well developed), it still stands well as a story that works out the implications - and horrors - of an eye for an eye through generations. Now I will just have to acquire The Golden Key to find out what follows.

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