Science fiction and fantasy
by Fiona McIntosh
Fears of witchcraft are receding under the enlightened rule of King Magnus, and the cruel Zerque religion is in decline. But it's not enough to save Myrren, who is condemned as a witch purely because of her odd-coloured eyes. But before she dies Wyl shows her a little kindness, and that changes everything for him.
Wyl is sent to the neighbouring country of Briavel to ask for the hand of Princess Valentyna on behalf of Celimus. But treachery is afoot, and pretty soon Wyl has his loyalties to his family and homeland severely tested. A union between Briavel and Morgravia would ensure peace, but at what price?
From the early chapters of Myrren's Gift there are uncompromising scenes of torture, brutality and death. It's a blood-soaked novel with some extremely grisly moments that are clearly intended to shock.
Wyl has an unlikely ally in Fynch, the palace gong boy, as well as the help of a fierce and unusually smart dog, Knave. The story takes a strange turn early on as the nature of Myrren's Gift makes itself known.
Yet this is a very conventional fantasy in many ways. Some of the characters are a little too black and white, either the epitome of evil or paragons of goodness. Not only the plot but the behaviour of all the other characters seems to revolve too much around Wyl, often quite clumsily. People just don't seem to ignore him or feel indifferent about him as often as they ought to. So Myrren's Gift can be predictable in its one-track focus, and this is coupled with writing that's occasionally over-melodramatic.
The romance that springs up does not sizzle, perhaps because there's too little tension between the too-perfect characters. Above all Myrren's Gift lacks subtlety, and this is why a story that starts well tails off and becomes cornier as it progresses.
This is not to say that this novel entirely fails to please. It has its moments, and it maintains pace and suspense throughout. The ending is satisfying, if not entirely unpredictable. So in spite of its flaws this is a novel that fans of high fantasy can get stuck into, and indeed absorbed in for hours, for some lightweight and action-packed escapism.
If you like this, try:Enchanters' End Game by David Eddings
Can Garion fulfil the prophecy and defeat a god? The fifth book of the Belgariad.
The Magician's Apprentice by Trudi Canavan
In this prequel to the Black Magician series a young assistant healer learns that she has magical gifts.
Magician's Gambit by David Eddings
Garion and company must face a powerful and hostile magician. The third episode in The Belgariad.
Review © Ros Jackson
More about Fiona McIntosh