Sanctuary by Lynn Abbey
List Price: $
Hardcover - 480 pages (June 2002)
Tor Books; ISBN: 031287491X
Review by Victoria McManus
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Lynn Abbey, co-creator of the shared fantasy universe Thieves' World, returns to the city of Sanctuary in this new epic novel.  She will follow Sanctuary with a new Thieves' World anthology in November.  The original series, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin, came out from Ace Books in 1978.  The new series is being published by Tor.

Fans of the original series might be disappointed to learn that only one familiar character has a role, though others may be seen in flashback.  Molin Torchholder, still with a large role in Sanctuary's government, is 90 years old at the book's opening.  A generation has passed since the events of the last Thieves' World story.  Molin's death is near, and he needs an heir to take over his responsibilities.

Some prior knowledge of the series would probably be helpful, particularly in the opening pages' dizzying array of historical and political background.  That section is more like a prologue, orienting new readers.  However, once the action begins with an attack by a devotee of the evil Bloody Hand, the story sweeps smoothly and swiftly from crisis to crisis.

The major new character is Cauvin, a relentlessly profane former slave of the evil Bloody Hand, worshippers of a goddess who demands the world end in chaos.  Cauvin rescues Molin-somewhat reluctantly-from an attack and soon finds himself running mysterious and dangerous errands for the ailing old man, all to save Sanctuary once again.

Sanctuary is set apart from the general run of epic fantasy by several elements.  Its origin as a shared world has resulted in an almost chaotic conglomeration of cultures, reminiscent of our own complex world.  Abbey has clearly taken advantage of this by involving as many different factions as possible in the political elements of her plot. 

Abbey's distinctive imprint on the book might be her representation of family, exemplified by Cauvin's adoptive parents and his foster-brother, Bec.  Cauvin's adventure takes place within Sanctuary's environs, so he cannot conveniently leave his family behind as he moves into the larger world.  His parents Grabar and Mina are realistically flawed both in personality and in familial interaction.  They are neither rosy fairy-godparents nor cruel taskmasters.  Grabar does not pay Cauvin for his labors in his stoneyard, but does swear believably that he will leave the business to Cauvin when he dies, despite the fact that he now has a genetic son.  Mina favors her nine-year old genetic son over Cauvin, but despite arguments with Cauvin, she feeds him well and is almost fair.

The most complex of the female characters is Cauvin's lover Leorin.  Conflicted in her motives, she never takes him entirely into her confidence.  Nor is she ever portrayed from her own point of view, lending her an aura of mystery that begs the reader to continue and discover her true self.

Of Cauvin's family, Bec gets the most development.  Despite his mother's prejudice, he idolizes Cauvin.  He shamelessly manipulates Cauvin into sharing his adventure by emphasizing his skills at writing, something Molin needs.  Because Bec can write some of the Imperial Rankan language, he becomes a vehicle for Molin's tales of Sanctuary's history.  These stories, and Molin's own memories, tie the old generation to the new.

The entire novel is a transition, from the old Thieves' World to the new.  Abbey sets up a pivotal future role for Cauvin as an advisor and shaper of events.  His transformation from illiterate stonemason to Molin's heir takes place gradually over the length of the book, as he overcomes each task Molin gives him.  The reader is left with a new political situation in the city of Sanctuary, and the setup for many more stories.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu