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Touched By Venom: Book One of the Dragon Temple Saga by Janine  Cross
Review by Gayle Surrette
Roc Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0451460480
Date: 01 November, 2005 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

When we first meet Zarq Darquel, a girl with a man's name, she is nine years old and it's the annual ceremony of Mombe Taro where young men who wish to be apprenticed to the Dragonmaster are given eight lashes with a dragon venom coated whip. Zarq manages to run and get a whip in the end of ceremony free-for-all but the Dragonmaster doesn't give it to her he just forces it into her unprotected hand so she falls into a venom caused delirium while the venom scars her hand. This sets the stage for the universe and culture. Women are property: whether wives, slaves, or whores and have no say in their lives or professions. Zarq's mother is half Djimbi, a race that lives in the forest and is known for their magical abilities. Zarq's father claimed her mother when she was sold to the pottery clan. While her mother is a talented potter and raises the clan's visibility with her work she gets no respect and is barely tolerated by the clan members. Her husband tries to support her but he will not go against Dragon Temple law or clan leadership.

Zarq, our narrator and viewpoint character, doesn't observe or ask questions about what goes on around her. As the clan and her family are torn apart she simply watches with all the innocence of a much younger child. For most of this book, Zarq steps back from taking responsibility for her own life and lets passion, revenge, and anger rule her choices. She has the hallmarks of a hero approaching those choices and decision that will somehow rule the rest of her life and her story.

Even though this is book one of a series and therefore the setup for what will follow, it is easy to get caught up in the tale and this world. The characters are strikingly real in their motives and emotions. The world is well defined and the culture can easily be understood from the narrative. Before you've gone two chapters you can get drawn in. I found myself so involved that I began to really want to sit Zarq down and let her have it with her aloofness and stubbornness -- for me that is the sign that I'm hooked.

This is not an easy book to read. It's not light entertainment. There is a story and it's well worth reading but it's not action/adventure, while there is some of that, it's more cerebral in wondering how this world came to be and can it be changed for the better and is Zarq the one to do that. Who is the adult that's telling this story? Will she be a better, wiser, stronger person than the child? Will she make a difference?

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