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Double fantasy of thrills, mystery

Author: Reviewed by Genevieve Swart
Date: 11/12/2005
Words: 634
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: News
Page: 81

Fiona McIntosh

(Voyager, $29.95)

Priestess Of The White

Trudi Canavan

(Voyager, $19.95)

TWO of the Australian fantasy scene's leading ladies have recently published the first in new trilogies, proving local fantasy is a force to be reckoned with. Fiona McIntosh, who was born in Britain and lives in Adelaide, is the author of the hugely successful The Quickening trilogy. She introduces readers to a new world of magic in Odalisque, set in Percheron, a land reminiscent of Turkey. "The new adventure is the result of browsing through a centuries-old travel writer's account of his visit to Constantinople," writes McIntosh, who visited Istanbul last year.

Odalisque's hero is a mysterious prisoner called Lazar, who fights for his freedom in the slave market and wins the favour of the Zar. The brave, but reticent "long-legged, raven-haired" Lazar - a protagonist McIntosh admits owes a debt to Colin Firth's characterisation of Jane Austen's Mr Darcy - is promoted to Spur of Percheron, the Zar's warrior leader.

When the old Zar dies, Boaz - son of the Zar's wickedly ambitious Absolute Favourite, Herezah - takes the throne. The old harem is sent packing and Herezah sends courtiers to search for lovely, young and - most importantly - biddable maidens to form a new one.

In the desert, Lazar discovers a beautiful girl called Ana (the odalisque, or concubine, of the title) but complicates his choice by falling in love with her himself. The obligatory evil grand vizier, meanwhile, is plotting with the forces of darkness to ensure his rise to power.

McIntosh is not afraid to hurt her characters in the interests of establishing evil - the fate of the old Zar's other sons and the making of a eunuch are two cases in point. Her torture scenes might want to come with a warning, so horrifying are the descriptions of medieval-style brutality. She achieves the desired end, however - readers are compelled to barrack for Lazar and the light. The book races off to a good start, leaving us on tenterhooks awaiting the next page-turner, due out late next year.

Melbourne author Trudi Canavan, who debuted in 2001 with the best-selling Black Magician trilogy, has also released a new story set in a new world - Priestess Of The White, book one in the Age Of The Five trilogy.

Auraya is the last of five White chosen to rule the realm of Hania. The White are also the heads of the Circlian religion and the intermediaries with the gods. Auraya is 26 and enters the inner circle at a troubled time, when powerful black-clad sorcerers are amassing their forces for war. Auraya's big dilemma, though, is her relationship with Leiard, a childhood friend who is part of an outcast sect of healers called Dreamweavers.

In the interest of negotiating an alliance with a neighbouring state, Auraya persuades the other White to accept Leiard as a Dreamweaver adviser. Then she learns her love for him is not as sisterly as she'd imagined. But Leiard is haunted by memories of his long-dead leader, kept alive in his mind after a magical session of dream sharing. Can he overcome this voice of dissent to work with Auraya?

Canavan has to do a lot of groundwork in the new book to introduce a complex cast of characters and pave the way for a great clash of good and evil to come. In addition to the White priests and priestesses, we meet ordinary humans, Siyee people, a winged folk forced to live high in the mountains, the Elai sea people and Emerahl, an immortal sorceress hunted by the White. The pace picks up towards the end, with a finale calculated to leave fans hanging out for book two.

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