Lord of Snow and Shadows by Sarah Ash
Bantam Spectra HCVR: ISBN 0553803344 PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by EJ McClure
496 pgs. List price $ 22
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Sarah Ash delivers a slant-wise retelling of the Dracula myth in Lord Of Snow And Shadows, Book One Of The Tears Of Artamon. Young Gavril Andar, a painter with the soul of a poet, falls hopelessly in love with the Astasia, the beautiful heiress whose portrait he is commissioned to paint for her prospective bridegroom, Prince Eugene of Tielen. But dark forces are at work in Gavrilís life; before he can finish the painting, he is snatched away by the druzhina, warriors from the far northern land of Azhkendir. There the hapless artist learns to his dismay that he is the true son of Lord Volkh Nagarian, the feared Drakhaon, who was betrayed and murdered in his own home. Gavril sees no choice but to take his fatherís place as lord of Azhkendir, and leader of the blood-sworn druzhina. The fierce old Bogatyr Kostya Torzianin, his fatherís right-hand man, tries to guide Gavrilís fumbling attempts at leadership, but nothing in Gavrilís sheltered life prepared him for the challenges he now faces. Troubled by dreams of blood and fire, Gavril realizes to his horror that a fearsome inheritance is wakening in his blood.
Tumbled into a barbaric life ordered by bizarre customs and weird superstitions, Gavril feels his only true ally is the serving girl, Kiukiu, who, like himself, is struggling to make sense of a tragic past kept from her by those who sought to protect her innocence. Bound by a compassionate impulse to a shared secret, they become friends and then, together, they begin to unravel the lies and secrets that shroud the dark corridors and even darker history of Kastel Drakhaon. But they do not have much time. Prince Eugene seizes on Gavrilís mother as a pawn to advance his ambitions of conquest. Aided by Count Linnaius, the Court Artificier and a powerful magus, Prince Eugene schemes to reunite the five rubies known as the Tears of Artamon in an Emperorís diadem once more. Gavrilís only hope of stopping him lies in the corrosive power blossoming in his own body, a power he can only exercise at a dreadful price.
Sarah Ash creates a spine-tingling sense of chilly foreboding by borrowing the romantic backdrop of old Russian folktales: ice and snow, wolves and treachery. She eschews the usual sword-and-sorcery trappings, and instead equips the Tielen army with guns and canon. Revolutionaries and alchemists complicate the court intrigues. There is much to like in Lord Of Snow And Shadows, Ashís first US publication following three successful fantasy novels published in Great Britain. Unfortunately, Ash rushes her complex plot to a choppy ending, fairly skittering between scenes and points of view in her effort to wrap up all loose ends in sight and leaving me wondering what she plans for subsequent novels in the series.