Book One of the Boreal Moon
Ace Books, Jan 2004 (British edition Starykon
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Deveron Austrey is plotting some amusement for his retirement years. His career has always been a secret. The most successful spy serving the throne, Deveron has emerged only rarely from obscurity. Now he plans to tell all and "revel in the scandal." If his long life ends a little sooner than is natural, by murder, why should he care?
Returning to the past, Deveron begins his story as a stable boy nicknamed Snudge, whose magical ability gives him a talent for soothing horses. He and Prince Conrig meet and recognize they can be useful to each other. Deveron is promoted to footman to the heir to the throne. Conrig is a very ambitious heir, and as the life of his father draws to a close, and volcanic eruptions throw three kingdoms into famine, Conrig plots to take control of the whole island of High Blenholme.
No one with magical ability is allowed to hold the throne of Cathra, so Conrig needs the services of people like Snudge and the Princess Ullanoth of Moss, both magickers of valuable talent. Ullanoth, daughter of Moss’s mad king, is also one of the major players for power on High Blenholme, a risky ally for the man who wants to be High King of the island. Conrig is at outs with his father, a sick man of limited vision, too cautious to support Conrig’s plans.
CONQUEROR’S MOON is the story of two simultaneous invasions, Cathra and Didion invading each other at the same time. It is a rivalry between two magicians, brother and sister, for a sorcerer's crown. It is Conrig’s attempt to build a consensus of power by any means necessary, potentially including the sacrifice of his family. It is a group of impossibly powerful beings who allow others to use their magic – at great price.
Author Julian May introduces us to characters who keep surprising us. Just as in real life, someone we like might do something that makes us cringe, or someone we dislike might do something worthy of admiration. We may feel sympathetic toward a person just because that person is presented sympathetically. Someone else may completely reverse our first impressions of him or her. Yes, there are truly antagonistic characters, who exist to be hated, but in the main, May is saying, "Judge not, for these are ourselves."
As multi-layered and blended as the personalities of the many primary characters are, so are the visuals. We watch the action take place on a screen of infinitely shaded color, with the detail of a fine miniature. The action has a mystery which calls to us, like faint chimes, from just out of reach. We seem to see it through a magical fog like that conjured up by Ullanoth’s friends "the small lights". When at last we meet the Great Lights, in their explosion of primary colors, the contrast sweeps through us with a roar of awe.
Julian May won high praise for her science fiction novels set in the Galactic Milieu. These three groups, which form a nine-book sequence, are some of my favorite re-reads. Their dominant character, Marc Remillard, has been called one of the greatest villains in sci fi/fantasy. CONQUEROR’S MOON builds on this human understanding, giving the variation of the infinitely flexible Remillard to many of its characters. Its sequel, IRONCROWN MOON, is due out in the United Kingdom in October of this year. While I am anticipating that, I don’t think I will be able to restrain myself from rereading May’s science fiction sequence yet again, starting with THE MANY-COLORED LAND, the first of her Saga of Pliocene Exile.
May 2004 Review
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