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Ironcrown Moon by Julian May
Review by Rafe Conn
HarperCollins / Voyager Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0007123213
Date: October 2004 List Price ?18.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The volcanoes on the north of the Island have quit their belching and the populace now hopes to return to the prosperous ways of the past. However the combined scheming of the former ruler of Moss (Beynor) and the aspirations of the hideous Salka conspire to plunge High Blenholme into fraction and tumult.

Conrig's former wife, Maudrayne, having survived her 'suicidal' plunge from the castle ramparts at the end of Conqueror's Moon is now determined to expose Conrig's villainous self-interest but the mysterious 'Source' is convinced that only through the islands unification under Conrig can ultimate peace be restored. The Source, via its minions, must therefore try to prevent Maudrayne from revealing her secret knowledge of Conrig that would wreck all hope for the islands future.

Also arrayed against the forces of hope is the traitorous former Royal Alchymist Killian, who has managed to escape from detention and intends to parlay his way back to the top table using a trove of magical Sigils. These Sigils are a means of increasing magical ability and each has a function such as invisibility, instantaneous far-travel or weather changing.

One Sigil in particular, called The Unknown Potency has never been used. After some years of research Beynor of Moss believes he has penetrated the mystery of The Unknown Potency and can use it to access infinite magical power. When one of the Sigils is utilized, a price is taken from the user in the form of pain inflicted by The Great Lights. Beynor believes he can sever this connection with The Unknown Potency and use the Sigils with impunity.

The real battle then is between The Great Lights and The Source. Conrig, Beynor, Killian and the Salka are all minor players in a larger cosmic struggle.

As one would expect the story progresses, the villains are up to no good while the heroes try to stop them. Conrig, however is an ambiguous character, driven by ambition to immoral acts, we read his thoughts cast in an unsympathetic light. It is refreshing, if a little chilling, to have such an equivocal protagonist, it feels somehow un-genre. A touch of Thomas Covenant perhaps?

The only sympathetic character is Deveron Austrey. He manages to retain his moral center, acting violently only in self-defense and determined in his desire to adhere to the promises he has made and the allegiances he has formed. There is not that much of Deveron in this volume of The Boreal Moon Tale however, and what there is sees him off on a mission that I found difficult to appreciate.

With all of these various races against time, I found myself thinking once more of that defining grail of the fantasy genre The Lord of the Rings: specifically, the plight of Merry and Pippin as they are carried for endless distance by the Orcs pursued by the remnants of the Fellowship of the Ring. As a young reader that journey, that race, managed to engage my attention to such an extent that it was the rest of my life that seemed fictitious and only that pursuit and that book that retained a sense of reality.

It is about the least fair comparison a reviewer can make, to compare the new with the best but in reading Ironcrown Moon not only did I not feel any of the emotions I felt reading LOTR but I found myself yearning for this book to be somehow better. There can be no question that Julian May is a master of the machinery of fantasy writing, there is a doubt however about the soul of her writing, her passion, her ability to elicit emotion. All of the engineering is first rate, but what is the purpose of the machine?

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