The Burning Land
Eos, February, 2004.
Hardcover, 496 pages.
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After a devastating war, the Empire of Arsace has finally prevailed, and has re-instituted its religion of the worship of the God Ârata, which was outlawed under the prior regime. Now the state and the king are allied. The church is all-powerful and heretics are severely punished. Any child who manifests signs of becoming a Shaper (a mage who can manipulate inorganic matter) is taken from his parents and sent to the Church for training. The Shapers are forced to take vows of celibacy and to take drugs to control their incredible powers, which may only be used in church services. When the Church hears rumors about a group of renegade, unrestrained Mages who have made their home in the Desert of Tears, young Shaper Gyalo is sent with an entourage to find the renegades and bring them home. Gyalo and his entourage begin their journey across the forbidding landscape of the burning lands. Soon the self-assured and pious Gyalo will encounter secrets that will shake his faith to its very foundations -- and possibly spell the beginning of a worldwide upheaval.
The Burning Land is the first book in a new duology by the multi-talented Victoria Strauss, the author of The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone. The Burning Land is a prime example of the perfectly executed fantasy. Ms. Strauss has created a fast-moving and exciting adventure, set in a fantastic and fully realized world full of religious repression, powerful magic, hidden love and dark secrets. The smug Gyalo, who has his world turned upside down, the outspoken Axane, who dares to question her society's strictest laws, and the handsome and arrogant Râvar, who is driven to near madness by his unrequited love and new ideas which challenge his religious training, are all powerful and vivid characters. With crisp prose, rich characterizations and a compelling plotline, The Burning Land is a thought-provoking, exhilarating novel.
--Claire E. White