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The Bright and the Dark    by Michelle M. Welch order for
Bright and the Dark
by Michelle M. Welch
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In The Bright and the Dark, Michelle M. Welch carries forward a rich and diverse world of 'Five Countries', introduced in Confidence Game. The series continues the stories of Sage Elzith; Julian, an exile of Biora; and Aron, the son of Lord Justice Jannes of the conquering kingdom of Dabion. Strict laws limit the freedom of commoners, while the ruling Lord Justices imbue the story with distrust, corruption, evil, magic, spies, and intrigue.

In Biora, blinded Tod Redtanner has developed the skill of binding books that are centuries old - left behind by ancient scholars of science and philosophy. Before Julian leaves Biora, Tod teaches him to read. Julian leaves his aunt's home, joining a group of traveling traders to search for 'where he belongs'. Aron is lost in hatred of his father, based on faint memories of his mother's death ten years before (the Lord Justice never speaks of her). Propelled into exile, Aron becomes a prison guard and meets Julian, whom he hides from Public Forces. A strange bond of friendship forms between the two. Events send them back to the capital. There's an outbreak of plague, and impending war as one of the conquering countries secedes from the Five Nations.

Julian and Aron go their separate ways, more than once. Even though she seldom appears in this second episode, the Sage, Elzith Kar plays a role as a gifted magician, her talent inherited from parents she never knew. Elzith lives through her dreams. At their last parting, asked by Aron where he will go, Julian replies 'I'm going back with the army. Some of the soldiers have the plague. They were taken away as soon as it was seen ... The commander is sending me to tend them in Tanasigh.' Aron tells Julian he is 'Absolutely, thoroughly mad ... But I'll find the plague. I'll find what causes it. I'll find out how to stop it.'

Welch does not give a concrete resolution to every character and event. New cast members and roles are introduced from chapter to chapter. However, her splendid imagination reels in the reader to discover where the story is headed. It's a dark fantasy with sinister corruption, magic and mysticism, and continued hope for freedom. Though I found the changes in each chapter frustrating and not easy to follow, the more I read, the more intrigued I became. I look forward to the third in the series, Chasing Fire, and recommend readers to start at the beginning with Confidence Game.

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