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A Magic of Twilight: Book One of the Nessantico Cycle by S.L. Farrell
Cover Artist: Todd Lockwood
Review by Drew Bittner
DAW Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756404666
Date: 05 February 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

In Nessantico, the capital and heart of a mighty empire, it is nearly the Golden Jubilee of the Kraljica (a title that equates roughly to empress). She is Marguerite ca'Ludovici, and the twilight years of her long reign are grievously troubled. Her empire is fraying at the seams and dire threats stir at the borders -- and within her own city.

This is the story of A Magic of Twilight, the start of a new epic fantasy series by S.L. Farrell. Set in a complex and lavishly realized world reminiscent of the very late Roman Empire, the doings of a handful of heroes and villains turn out to be pivotal -- though rarely in predictable fashion.

Into the cauldron that is Nessantico steps Ana cu'Seranta, a young woman trained to become an acolyte of the Concenzia Faith. Blessed with strong and unconventional magical abilities, Ana becomes a focus of much attention, good and bad, as she navigates the treacherous waters of Nessantico's politics.

Her baptism of fire comes when a magical assassination attempt is made on the Kraljica. Could it be a coup attempt from her son, the Kraljiki (emperor)-in-waiting named Justi? Is it the doing of a rebellious warlord on the border, or the work of insurrectionist-heretics (a group known as the Numetodo) who are hunted by the more fanatical members of the Faith?

Then matters take a dire turn as the issue of rulership becomes more than academic, and the threat of war looms.

Aided by the ancient Archigos (pope) Dhosti, Ana pieces together the power struggles behind the scenes, only to find herself swept to the heights of the Concenzia Faith through an unexpected chain of events.

Along the way, she comes to question some help she is given, fearing that she is being manipulated into being a cat's-paw for some unknown player. Discovering the truth behind the web of lies -- and the secrets of her own uncanny talents -- may be the only way Ana and Nessantico can survive.

S.L. Farrell has crafted a wondrous tale of intrigue, adventure, the collision of politics and religion, and the triumph of personal virtue over fear and doubt. The setting of Nessantico is sophisticated, challenging readers to delve deeper into its many layers, while the characters are refreshingly three-dimensional and rarely white or black in their moral choices.

The story is told in sections, with each section subdivided into smaller chapters featuring a key character. Ana receives a great deal of time in center stage; also featured are Marguerite, her sly son Justi, the weary but indomitable Dhosti, the cunning and ambitious Orlandi ca'Cellibrecca (who aims to claim Dhosti's position), the magical artist Edouard ci'Recroix, the enigmatic beggar Mahri, and Jan ca'Vorl (hirzg [king] of the subject land of Firenzia). Each has a strong and distinct role to play as competing agendas play out, alliances are made and broken, and secrets long buried are laid bare.

This is no light read. The social system, naming conventions and different titles alone take up a fair amount of head space for the reader. However, the craft of world-building has rarely been put on display so ingeniously.

Fans of epic fantasy can expect a genuine treat in this book, hopefully the first of many to come.

Strongly recommended.

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