Fantasy/SF Book Reviews

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The Arm of the Stone by Victoria Strauss

Eos, April, 1998.
Paperback, 426 pages.
ISBN: 0380797518.
Ordering information:

Cover of The Arm of the Stone by
Victoria Strauss Long ago, the world was united and one family had great power as the keeper and protector of the Stone -- the world's most powerful object. But after a terrible conflict the world was split into two worlds -- the world of Mindpower where technology is forbidden and the Stone is guarded by terrible Guardians, and the other world where the skills of the mind have been lost and technology, or Handpower, rules. In the world of Mindpower, a young boy, Bron, is the last of the line of the ancient family who are the true keepers of the Stone. It is prophesied that Bron will recapture the Stone and return the world to order, freeing it from the terrible, Draconian rule of the Guardians. When Bron's family is destroyed by the Guardians, he vows to become a Guardian himself in order to reach the Stone from the inside of the Guardian temple. His Quest will take him to the heights of power in his world. He will also come face to face with the Stone and the awesome power that pulls him to it and will find love in a very unexpected place. Bron fulfills a great destiny, but in a very unusual and powerful way.

The Arm of the Stone is a powerful novel from Victoria Strauss. Neatly avoiding many of the cliches that seem to permeate the epic fantasy subgenre, Strauss creates a world from a fascinating premise. The description of a world without technology where Luddite laws impose harsh penalties on anyone who even improves on the simple technology of the time (such as making a better plow) is intriguing, as is the description of Bron's inner powers which are linked to the Stone. The subplot of a wealthy girl who has empathic abilities who also becomes a Guardian adds texture to the tale and is woven neatly into the Quest story. An exciting and unusual novel which lovers of epic fantasy will not want to miss.

Jericho Moon by Matthew Woodring Stover

Roc, April 1998.
Trade paperback, 480 pages.
ISBN: 0451456785.
Ordering information:

Cover of Jericho Moon
by Matthew Woodring Stover Long, long ago, before the birth of Christ, three mercenaries were making a decent living in the war-torn area where modern day Israel stands. Barbarian princess Barra the Pict along with her pet wolf, Graegduz, the magician Kheperu of Thebes and the warrior Leucas of Athens set off to the desert of Caanan to rescue the Jebusite prince in order to receive the reward offered by his Father-King. They rescue the prince, but end up right in the middle of the siege of Jebusi by the Hebrews who worship one God, Yahweh. The city dwellers worship a female Goddess and the two Gods have declared war upon one another with the humans stuck in the middle. It will take all of Barra's considerable fighting and diplomatic skills, as well as a little sorcery, to rescue her and her friends and return home to her two little boys. But with the Gods themselves taking a hand, it is far from clear whether anyone at all will make it out alive from the siege of Jebusi.

Jericho Moon is set in a much-underused time period of history which provides an excellent backdrop for this tale of action, adventure and magic. The description of the ancient cultures including the idol-worshipping Baal followers and the Hebrews who march to war with the Ark of the Covenant is as fascinating as it is slyly amusing. The wry commentary of Barra the Pict, who reminds one a bit of Xena, Warrior Princess, is especially entertaining. An excellent, intriguing tale that will have readers longing for more adventures with Barra and company.

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