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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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FIRES OF THE FAITHFUL by Naomi Kritzer, published by Bantam in October 2002, ISBN 0-553-58517-7, $6.99. Review by Laurie J. Marks.

In her debut novel, Naomi Kritzer delivers a complex and satisfying story of a young violinist, Eliana, set adrift in a war-torn country. In a land where alliances are deeply divided between practitioners of two competing religions, one sanctioned and one forbidden, Eliana is finding a way between these choices, sometimes seeing value in both, and sometimes allying herself with neither. Music takes her across the theological divide; and in a similar sort of way it takes her across political divisions, to make friends (and enemies) among oppressed and oppressor alike. Mira, Eliana's mysterious roommate at the conservatory, is hunted down by the people to whom she and Eliana should be the most loyal. Witnessing Mira's stolen freedom galvanizes Eliana to independence, and she leaves the safety of the conservatory, only to become one of thousands of faceless refugees from the famine and violence that beset her land.

Enslaved in a gigantic internment camp, entangled in personal alliances and paralyzing moral ambiguities. Eliana moves progressively, and believably, from small, innocent acts of inadvertent resistance to large intentional ones. Each time she sees political and magical power misused, her resolution increases. Slowly, she becomes a rvolutionary. Yet, though Eliana's story sometimes echoes that of Joan of Arc, she is not a visionary. Transparent plotting and Eliana's limited self-awareness contribute to the sense that this protagonist, like most of us, is reeling from one experience and alegiance to the next, without a clear sense of where she is going or what she believes in. A reader who expects a fantasy novel to deliver a neatly predictable story and a hero who knows what she is doing may be disappointed, but I appreciate realism in fantasy, odd though that may sound.

Kritzer also has taken some risks in devising the two competing religions. The oppressed Redentori religion echoes Christianity: the verses from its sacred text parallel the Bible, and their mythos centers around a son of God named Gesu, whose spilled blood renews the earth. Because of these parallels, I was anxiously poised for this book to turn out to be a thinly disguised Christian allegory. But Kritzer, if she intends to offer a commentary on contemporary religion at all, is advocating nothing remotely similar to fundamentalist conformity, and instead is proferring a quiet critique of it. Eliana's commitment to God is provisional: "I'll follow as long as you're leading somewhere I want to be going," she says. And it appears to this reader that where Eliana wants to be going is a direction that is, or will be, forbidden by both religions.

FIRES OF THE FAITHFUL will be followed in January by the second volume, TURNING THE STORM. I plan to read it as soon as I can get my hands on it.

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