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November 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Tyrannosaurus Press
Trade: ISBN
097188191X PubDate May 02
Review by Rob Archer
544 pages List price $19.95  
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The Fall of Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Bantam trade paperback: ISBN 0553381849 Pub Date Nov 2002

Review by Laurie J. Marks

496 pages List price $13.95

Enthusiasts of Kushner's Swordspoint and of Sherman's The Porcelain Dove will be delighted by this joint novel, which marries the historical depth and sophistication of Sherman's vision to the vivid, complex characters of Kushner's world. This is a novel about perception, about the multitude of ways that people's contexts and predispositions limit and determine what they are able to see. Its central character is the beautiful, sexy, vulnerable Theron Campion, son of the Mad Duke, heir to the duchy of Tremontaine. Although he is smart, sophisticated, and well-educated, Theron is also an innocent. He wants to enjoy himself, isn't interested in politics, and struggles to meet the expectations of his family.

In a world of power-mongering, political machinations, and grass-roots uprisings, everyone's perception of Theron is distorted. To his aunt he is her feckless and irresponsible heir, to the single noblewomen he is an attractive catch, to the mature sensualists he is an object of desire, to the Northerners he is a ritual sacrifice, and to the people in political power he is a threat. All these misapprehensions are overshadowed by those of Theron's lover, Basil St. Cloud, Doctor of History at the University.

Basil is as innocent in his own way as Theron is in his. His research into ancient history is taking him towards a politically volatile, long forgotten secret about the ancient kings and the wizards who once served them. Yet, in the interest of scholarship, Basil persists. Eventually, he comes to believe that the proof he seeks will transform both him and Theron into agents of this secret magic history.

This novel is crowded with characters, each one with his or her own agenda. Any attempt to encapsulate its multi-faceted, much-intertwined plots must necessarily be incomplete. Suffice to say that this wonderful story defies predictability at every turn. It presents a society as complex as our own, a society in which there are many kinds of power and many possible affiliations, and in which the people who seek simple independence are the most endangered.

In a world created by men, a world in which power, if it is not inherited, can be won, or stolen; several female characters have succeeded in carving out unique roles for themselves -- a lascivious artist, a swaggering sailor, a respected doctor, an impatient duchess -- all unmarried by choice or fate. This man's world is cut-throat, manipulative, exploitative, and so corrupted by its hierarchies and power struggles that it is practically impossible for any man to escape its hold so as to live by different terms. For Theron, who wants to conform to his society's unforgiving requirements while also retaining his own desires and identity, it is both a world of great privilege and a world of grave danger. If he will not exercise his inherited power, then he will become a victim, or a puppet. In this world, men may have power, but that doesn't mean they have choices.

Elegantly written, rich with conversations, peopled with confused, misled, and sincere protagonists, this novel provides a rare experience of a richly conceived and incessantly surprising world. Every detail, from the holiday observations to the make of a man's boots, seems exactly true, and completely believable. No small book could contain such rich complexity. This book is big enough to live in, and its readers will be glad to take it as their residence.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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