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A Sorcerer's Treason: A Novel of Isavalta    by Sarah Zettel order for
Sorcerer's Treason
by Sarah Zettel
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sarah Zettel has been making a name for herself with excellent SF novels like The Quiet Invasion and Kingdom of Cages, and short stories such as Fool's Errand. This prompted me to pick up her first venture into fantasy, A Sorceror's Treason, and I was rewarded with a read that immediately put Zettel on my short list of fantasy favorites.

Bridget Lederle has inherited her father's position as lighthouse keeper on Sand Island, Wisconsin at the turn of the nineteenth century. She lives there with a housekeeper and the housekeeper's simple adult son. Bridget, herself rumored to be illegitimate, is scorned by her community for having borne a child (who died soon after birth) out of wedlock. It is a bitter situation that she bears out of a sense of duty to the man who raised her.

The story opens as a boat flounders in a Lake Superior storm. Bridget rescues from the wreck a stranger in unusual clothing, whose presences increases the visions that she has always experienced. Kalami tells her of his own world, where Dowager Empress Medeoan desperately needs Bridget's help to save her son Mikkel. The young Emperor has apparently been bespelled by his new bride Ananda. She is a princess of Hastinapura, and a sorceress who has help from her personal magic worker, the dark man, Sakra.

But it's not your simple parallel world situation where the hero/heroine from Earth is needed to intervene in local politics and save the day. There's a lot more depth to this world and complexity in its dynasties and their conflicts. There are powers that intervene - from Baba Yaga ('the Witch with the Iron Teeth') of Russian legend, to the Vixen and her fox people, and dwarf-crows - and mysteries, such as what drives Medeoan so strongly, and why Kalami's small daughter is a hostage in Hung-Tse.

Through various adventures, Bridget exercises her own powers in this new world, and begins to sort out truths from all the stories told to her. Kalami wants her love and loyalty and will go to great lengths to assure it. Medeoan seeks her help in controlling the bird made of flame in a golden cage. Sakra gives warnings and seeks her aid for his own objectives. Bridget is torn between her feelings for the man who raised her and curiosity about her birth father, Avanasy. She must make choices.

The author weaves a subtle web. Her story is rich in magic, in powers alien to us, and in characters seduced by their own delusions and by power. Not all writers can move as easily as this between straight SF and fantasy. Sarah Zettel has done a brilliant job of it and I'm most anxious to read more novels of Isavalta - The Usurper's Crown and (forthcoming) The Firebird's Vengeance.

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