You might feel some ambivalence about entering a story which, the writer confides before you’ve even got to the first page, ‘arose out of a time of personal difficulty and pain’. Hold on, Sherryl, we’ve only just met. It turns out, however, that this epic fantasy needs no special pleading.
Some of its features are well-known to devotees of this relentlessly expanding genre. A young protagonist is almost overwhelmed to find that the destiny of her world lies within her hands. She must pass through various demanding experiences to equip her for the task, including a period in an isolated ‘school’, a process familiar to fantasy readers from Le Guin’s Roke to Rowling’s Hogwarts (much closer to Roke on this occasion). Avala, the heroine, is a healer both of bodies and of minds, a gift inherited from her father Gabriel, hero of the novel’s predecessor, Secret Sacrament. So her weapons against her enemies depend upon her skills of walking in others’ minds and memories. Her task is to unite and guide three tribes, mistrustful of each other yet all suffering the savage oppression of Jaganath, Emperor of the Navorans. As she pursues her mission through predominantly male worlds, Avala encounters more love and loyalty than evil and cruelty.
Each of the tribes is distinguished by peculiar rituals and ceremonies, reflecting their very different stages of material and scientific development. The language of the narrative is marked by slightly uneasy devices to suggest ‘otherness’ from our own world – Avala might feel ‘a high lot happy’ or ‘joy-wild’. Her commitment to healing means there are fewer flashing blades, shattered skulls and fatal sorcery than fantasy readers might expect; for here the emphasis falls more upon self-knowing than martial arts. The novel will persuade many readers to enjoy its reflective pace, moving steadily towards the resolution of the tribal conflicts – to ‘the Time of the Eagle’. This is not a story where there is an edge of ever-present danger, betrayal or surprise; its considerable attractions lie within character as much as events.