Thirteenth Scroll by Rebecca Neason
Paperback - 432 pages (June 2001) Aspect/Warner Books; ISBN: 0446609536
Review by EJ McClure
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK
In The Thirteenth Scroll Rebecca Neason turns her hand from writing Star Trek and Highlander novels to an original work of romantic fantasy. Her background as a herbalist, Celtic folk musician, and long-time student of medieval British history is evident in the realm of Aghamore, with its feuding barons, powerful archbishops, castles and kings. Against this dramatic backdrop Neason tells the story of Lysandra in clean and simple prose that makes for an effortless and enjoyable read.
After the tragic loss of her family and her innocence when she was a girl of 17, Lysandra withdrew into the woods, wanting nothing more of human griefs or loves. Though blind, she learns to care for herself in the wilderness. Her only companion is the wolf Cloud-Dancer, her faithful guardian. Her bond with the wolf is enhanced by her Sight, a blend of clairvoyance and empathy that makes Lysandra a gifted healer.
Lysandra’s peaceful world is invaded a troubling dream that leaves her no peace, but compels her to abandon her secluded cottage and venture once more into the hostile world that so cruelly robbed her of everyone she loved. With Cloud-Dancer to guide her, she sets out on a journey that will change the fate of the kingdom of Aghamore.
At the same time, another woman sets out to take control of the fate Aghamore. Aurya is guided not by dreams, but by her own ambition and cunning. Through her wit and beauty she has ensnared Baron Giraldus, most powerful of the contenders for the crown. She plots to put him on the throne by her sorcery, with the aid of the mystical Thirteenth Scroll of Tambryn, a renegade monk whose prophetic visions were condemned as heretical by the Church. But Aurya is not the only one who has secretly studied Tambryn’s writings. Father Renan has also devoted himself to mastering the ancient texts, and when Lysandra’s journey brings her to his parish church, he abandons all he has to guide her in her quest to unravel the riddle of the Thirteenth Scroll before Aurya can use it to secure the throne of Aghamore for Giraldus, her lover and pawn.
The key to the riddle is an innocent the Scroll describes as the Font of Wisdom. Aurya manipulates Giraldus into abandoning his plans for military conquest of the vacant throne to help her capture the child, who she plans to use to further her ambitions. She is driven to ever more dangerous sorcerous feats to keep ahead of her rivals, for her magic warns her that she is not alone in seeking the Font of Wisdom.
Lysandra and Renan’s quest grows ever more perilous when Lysandra’s Sight leads them to the subterranean land of the Cryf. In ancient days the Cryf were persecuted by the humans; their first reaction to Lysandra and Renan is hostile. Lysandra realizes she must win them over if she and Renan are to escape with their lives. In this time of darkness and peril she also comes to realize that she cares deeply for Renan in a way she never thought to care for anyone again.
Give The Thirteenth Scroll a PG-13 rating. This straightforward romantic fantasy is sure to appeal to young fans of Katherine Kurtz and Marion Zimmer Bradley. It has capable and independent female characters, a lovingly-detailed medieval backdrop, and plenty of adventure and magic. Neason divides her narration primarily between her Lysandra and Aurya, a device that reveals enough of Aurya’s miserable childhood and secret fears to make the reader hope she will somehow be redeemed in the second novel of this series. Though haughty, wildly ambitious, and coldly manipulative, Aurya is not really evil. Just blind to the consequences of her actions.