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The Alton Gift: A Novel of Darkover    by Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah J. Ross order for
Alton Gift
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Fans of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley's popular Darkover series will be thrilled - as I was - by the opportunity to return to the beleagured world of the Comyn once more in The Alton Gift. Though written after Bradley's death, this has the feel of her world, with characters who stay true to it. Of writing in another's universe, Deborah J. Ross tells us, 'I think the only way to write about characters created by someone else is to fall in love with them yourself' and that feeling shines through in her story.

This episode in the longrunning saga opens four years after the death of Regis Hastur. Mikhail Lanart-Hastur is now Regent of Darkover, ably assisted by his wife Marguerida, who was raised mostly offworld. She is the daughter of one of the series' best characters, the scarred and guilt-ridden Lewis-Kennard Alton. The Terrans have withdrawn from Darkover to deal with interstellar civil war, after trying to slaughter Comyn rulers at the Battle of Old North Road. The Comyn are stretched thin, unable to attend properly to their hereditary duties, and the commonfolk suffer. As the story opens, we meet such folk, having to leave their village, now untenable, due to fires raging out of control in the region, and disease. The survivors flee the area, heading to Nevarsin, the City of Snows, and encountering a dying trailman en route.

While they progress toward the city, we meet the Hastur heir, Domenic, tending to his dying grandmother, before reluctantly returning to his duties in Thendara. There, Marguerida's headaches warn of impending peril. Dominic is attracted to the spoilt, wilful Alanna - who's been fostered in his family, and suffers terrifying visions of possible futures - and secretly commits to marry her. His family's old enemy, Francisco Ridenow, reappears on the scene, stirring up trouble. And his maternal grandfather takes Danilo Syrtis-Ardais's advice and seeks solace for his constant pain and nightmares at the Nevarsin monastery. There Lew meets another key player in this story, Jeremiah Reed, whom he faced at the Battle of Old North Road. Reed was a Terran biological warfare specialist, who chose to stay behind on Darkover as Jeram and - until now - kept his identity a secret.

Francisco plots, Lew and Jeram seek forgiveness for past actions, Domenic is pulled into a love triangle, and a dreaded disease grows towards an inevitable and devastating pandemic. These are all the ingredients needed for a rousing tale of Darkover, and Deborah Ross pulls it ably together, showing Domenic come into his own as a leader, while Alanna (rather surprisingly, given her regular tantrums) comes of age and develops responsibility. I hope for more Darkover adventures in this revived series, that seems poised now for the return of the Terrans.

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