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January 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Assassins of Tamurin by S.D. Tower
Eos/HarperCollins Hardcover: ISBN: 0380978032 PubDate Jan 03
Review by EJ McClure
pages  List price $25.95  
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I started out a skeptic: Lale, an 11-year-old foundling, runs away from her miserably poor village and is adopted by Makina Seval, the ruling Despotana of Tamurin . . . just another one of those stories too good to be true. But Laleís plucky opportunism in the face of misfortune intrigued me. Not every heroine can lie so convincingly at the drop of a needle, or dissemble so thoroughly that she convinces even herself.

Lale soon found out that she was not the only orphan Makina had adopted. Indeed, when Lale arrived at the Citadel of Serene Repose in Tamurin she joined a whole cadre of young women being trained in arts, deportment, geography, mathematics, history, and the practical skills of running a large household. A few were chosen for further training in more unusual skills. All the girls shared a history of misfortune, and all gratefully accepted the Despotana who had adopted them as their Mother. They knew how lucky they were, orphans with no ancestors to bless and guard them, that Mother would take such pains to arrange advantageous marriages for them, or set them up in trade.

Laleís ambitions--of which she had many--were for the stage. She was going to become a High Theater actress. Sheíd certainly be famous, and probably rich, and everyone would talk about her. It was only a matter of time. Or so she told herself.

Laleís best friend Dilara wanted to become weaver. The two girls argued bitterly, for neither wanted to give up her dreams or their friendship. They finally agreed to wait until their schooling was over to see if Mother could help them choose. To their dismay, Motherís decision was one neither would have accepted, except that the alternatives were unthinkable.

Deft foreshadowing and a fast-paced plot kept me fully engaged. I enjoyed Laleís wry perspective on her struggles as a fledgling actress, her youthful enthusiasm for the sights and people she encountered on her travels, and her delight at her first dizzying success on stage. Then Lale learned the real reason Mother had procured her a place in the theater company: she was supposed to win the confidence of Terem Rathai, the Sun Lord--and his love, if possible--in order to spy out his secrets.

Secrets she was then supposed to pass on to the Despotana of Tamurin. Lale had no choice but to agree: not only did she owe Mother everything, but she was under the watchful eye of Nilang, the Despotanaís feared sorceress. At first snaring Teremís attention, then exciting his interest, was just another acting challenge. Playing the lover was a difficult role to master, especially since giving in too quickly or easily would risk losing Teremís interest. But the more Lale discovered about Teremís plans--the more she learned of the young ruler of Bethiya himself--the more she came to doubt the wisdom of Motherís orders.

What captivated Lale was Teremís grand scheme for the unity and rebirth of a country on the verge of civil war and defeat. It was a vision more potent than any of Nilangís spells. Caught up in Teremís dreams in spite of herself, Lale began to question Motherís plans. Soon she realized that all was not as it seemed. Her resemblance to Teremís dead wife was not mere coincidence. Motherís special interest in her was more sinister than compassionate. One thread lead to another, until Lale realized in dismay that she was caught in the midst of a bloody web of deceit, vengeance and sorcery.

In Assassins of Tamurin S.D. Tower has created an exotic world that borrows a little from the Far East, but owes most of its captivating power to the vivid imagination of this husband-wife writing team. While ďSĒ contributed an artistís keen visual sensibility to this lush fantasy, ďDĒ crafted a clever string of clues and miscues to intrigue the reader. In Lale they have created a sympathetic narrator; we learn the history of Durdana and their long struggle to resist the invasion of the Exiles along with her, and share h er dread as she realizes that she can play a pivotal role in the history of her people, if she dares risk everything to take center stage. S.D. Tower works rigorously within the limits of the first-person voice to reveal Motherís diabolical schemes as Lale herself would discover them: one step at a time. I would enjoy sharing more of Laleís adventures. Unfortunately, Assassins of Tamurin is one of those rare finds: not the first volume of a trilogy, but a story with a beginning, middle and end.

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