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The Ninth Talisman: Volume Two of the Annals of the Chosen    by Lawrence Watt-Evans order for
Ninth Talisman
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though I jumped into the Annals of the Chosen in the middle - having missed The Wizard Lord - that did not detract from my enjoyment of this unusual fantasy world. Its inhabitants live in isolated towns, each having come to its own arrangements with the local magical (and capricious) ler. Ruling over all is a Wizard Lord and balancing his power are eight Chosen - Leader, Seer, Swordsman, Beauty, Thief, Scholar, Archer, and Speaker - whose role is to intercede if the Wizard Lord misuses his power, and to kill him if he goes too far. Each has a talisman, by which their named attribute is magically enhanced.

The story is narrated by the Swordsman (the greatest in the world through magic and daily practice), who's simply referred to as Sword. In the first book, despite treachery and cowardice in fellow Chosen, Sword played his part by slaying the Dark Lord of the Galbek Hills, a Wizard Lord who had gone mad and seriously abused his power. Now, Sword is back home farming in Mad Oak, troubled by his belief that his role - as well as that of the other Chosen and the Wizard Lord - need no longer exist, as wizards seem to be dying out in Barokan. Sword soon learns that the new Wizard Lord, Artil, agrees with him and is implementing drastic changes to their society.

A road crew arrives in Mad Oak, one of many sent by Artil to build roads between towns, a welcome change that leads to more trade and a better life for everyone. Curious, Sword travels to Winterhome to meet Artil. He finds him surrounded by guards, with surprising advisors, and launched on many more building projects, including a Summer Palace in the Uplands, which are free of ler and magic. Everything Artil says sounds rational and for the good of Barokan, but Sword is uneasy. He meets the new Leader, Boss, who gathers together the Chosen to discuss the situation. They ask for a meeting with the Wizard Lord, and they learn of the existence of a ninth talisman. But who holds it and what is its power?

After a slow and steady build-up, the story explodes into a maelstrom of action, violence, and death. As Sword feared, all was indeed not what it seemed, but this time the Wizard Lord has the people of Barokan on his side. Sword knows what he must do but the odds are strongly against him and he has few allies. Will he succeed? We'll have to wait for the trilogy's conclusion in The Summer Palace to find out.

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