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The Summer Palace: Volume Three of the Annals of the Chosen    by Lawrence Watt-Evans order for
Summer Palace
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Summer Palace follows The Wizard Lord and The Ninth Talisman in Lawrence Watt-Evans' unusual fantasy series, The Annals of the Chosen. The inhabitants of the warm, wet lowlands of Barokan live in isolated towns, each having come to its own arrangements with local magically capricious ler. Ruling over all is a Wizard Lord, his power balanced by eight Chosen - Leader, Seer, Swordsman, Beauty, Thief, Scholar, Archer, and Speaker - whose named attributes are magically enhanced and whose role is to kill the Wizard Lord if he abuses his power.

In the first book, the Swordsman, known simply as Sword, slew a dark Wizard Lord, despite the cowardice and treachery of fellow Chosen. In the second book, the new Wizard Lord, Artil, built a Summer Palace in the Uplands (where magic holds no sway and the weather is so harsh that the nomadic inhabitants are forced to winter below in Barokan) and implemented drastic, but popular, changes to Barokan society. However, he feared others with magical powers and built an army that first killed other wizards and then attacked the Chosen themselves. Sword escaped, after learning of the existence of a ninth talisman - but not who holds it or what powers it gives.

Now, disguised, he travels to the Uplands, determined to find a way to kill the Wizard Lord when he visits his Summer Palace and lacks magical protection. But first, Sword must learn to live in the Uplands and find a way to survive the winter there, something no-one has done before. Taken in by the Clan of the Golden Spear, Sword learns to live - more or less - as one of them, and to hunt the ara, huge birds whose feathers ward magic. When the clan heads below to Barokan for the winter, Sword takes the few supplies he was able to accumulate and camps in the subterranean kitchens of the Summer Palace, where he only survives after making contact with Uplands ler (who were not believed to exist).

When the long winter ends and Artil returns to his Summer Palace, Sword makes his bid to kill the tyrant and change the basis for the governance of Barokan - which is when the author introduces a surprising plot twist as Sword - and readers - learn the identity of the ninth Chosen. I very much enjoyed this unique trilogy that centers on the nature of heroism, and look forward to more from Lawrence Watt-Evans.

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