May 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Son of Avonar by Carol Berg
Roc / Penguin Putnam PPBK: ISBN 0451459628 PubDate: 02/01/04
Review by Victoria McManus

480 pgs. List price $ 6.99
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Carol Berg begins a new fantasy trilogy with Son of Avonar, book one of The Bridge of D'arnath. It's an interesting follow-up to her previously published Rai-Kirah trilogy (Transformation, Revelation, and Restoration). Berg is also the author of the standalone Song of the Beast, which I've reviewed previously (See Review).

Though Berg addresses some of the same themes in both trilogies--prejudice, surviving suffering, and moral debts--the new novel moves at a slower, more contemplative pace suited to the mysteries she is establishing about the Bridge and what might be on the other side. There is little magic in the world she portrays, because after sorcerers of the past tried to rule, using their powers to control the Leiran populace, things went badly wrong and the sorcerors were all but exterminated. Any sorcerers who are discovered are indiscriminately burned.

The Lady Seriana, the point of view character, has spent several years demoted and exiled to a hardscrabble existence on a lonely farm, though her brother is Duke Tomas, the King's right hand. While Seri is in the forest gathering herbs, a young man, the prey of the King Evard's soldiers, stumbles across her path. The young man cannot speak, and his behavior is violent, but Seri helps him to hide. From then on her course is set. She cannot resist exploring where the young man whom she calls Aeren (his true name is revealed later) has come from and why he was being pursued. He is considerably more than he seems.

Berg cleverly intersperses present events with flashbacks to Seri's youth, when she first rejected marriage to the future king and then married Karon, a sorcerer who was a healer. Subsequently, she suffered through Karon's torture and death at the King's hands. Gradually, one realizes these events of the past are every bit as important to uncovering Aeren's mysteries as Seri's more active pursuit of mysterious, murdering priests, lost knowledge and lost friends of her husband's, and evasion of King Evard's chief enforcer, the mysterious Darzid. I found myself forming multiple theories as to Aeren's origins and purpose as I read, each one as plausible as the last; I would then learn one more piece of information and come up with yet another theory. Berg does reward the reader with some answers, almost science-fictional ones, but her answers give rise to more questions.

The slow and steady worldbuilding kept my attention, but my favorite part of the novel was, as usual with Berg, the characterization. Seri's most interesting relationships are not with Aeren and with Karon, but with the local sheriff Rowan, and with Captain Darzid, her brother's right hand. Her conflicts with Rowan both hinder and further her quest into Aeren's history; she cannot trust him not to turn Aeren in, as he is the one responsible for ensuring her own parole, and must enforce the law whether he likes it or not.

Darzid appears throughout the book in tantalizing glimpses. It's clear he will become much more important as the trilogy proceeds, and there are hints that he might be more integral to the plot than Seri or the reader realizes at first.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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