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The Burning Land    by Victoria Strauss order for
Burning Land
by Victoria Strauss
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gyalo, hero of The Burning Land, is an ardent believer, an Āratist monk and a Shaper, who willingly limits his own talents by ingestion of high doses of the drug manita. His religion is ruled by regularly reincarnated Brethren, children of the First Messenger of a god who sleeps under the desert sands of the 'Burning Land'. Āratists long for the god's prophesied awakening. But they are just recovering from a rebellion and takeover of Galea by Caryaxists, who imprisoned and exiled the faithful, and desecrated holy buildings.

Gyalo is sent by the leader of his order on an expedition deep into the desert, chasing the rumor of a lost group of Āratists. Stripped naked and sent into the Burning Land, they are believed to have survived, perhaps with the help of Shapers in their midst. The enigmatic Captain Teispas leads the expedition's soldiers, and they're guided by Vāsparis, a mining prospector who knows and loves the Burning Land. On first sight, Gyalo finds the desert 'forbiddingly, breathtakingly beautiful' and as they progress, they discover a surprising variety in landscapes, flora and fauna.

The expedition suffers death, disaster (natural and man-made) and betrayal. Gyalo takes an action that makes him technically apostate. The survivors ultimately find their way to Refuge, kept hidden from the outside world by a Dream-veil maintained by Dreamers who sleep away their lives until their early deaths. Axane is the daughter of a Dreamer and the enclave's ruler Habrāmna. Fearing her mother's fate, she hides her own talent and rejects the obsessive love of a powerful, egoistic young Shaper named Rāvar. On Gyalo's arrival, Axane's people hail him as the 'Next Messenger', prophesied to lead them out of Refuge, to rebuild Galea.

Gyalo and a small party do return, to an unexpected reception. There are schisms of faith, surprises, betrayals and bloodshed. The main characters - Gyalo, Axane and Rāvar - are forged by violence and despair. Through all of it, Gyalo keeps to a pure belief, despite his growing (and reciprocated) love for Axane. She loses her already weakened faith, believing that this life is all there is 'burning between dark and dark!' As this powerful epic ends, the reader is left wondering whether a new age truly is dawning in Galea, and who truly is the 'Next Messenger'? I hope to read a sequel soon, for some answers.

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