May 30, 2004

Mistress of the Pearl, by Eric Van Lustbader

This is the new third volume of Lustbader's epic Saga of the Pearl, currently out in hardcover; it continues the story of the Dar-al-Salat's struggle to free the planet Kundala from the oppression of the ruling V'orrn.

Up until about a century before the current action, Kundala was ruled by the Ramahan priesthood in the name of the Goddess Miina. The priesthood included both male and female Kundalans (I'd say "men and women", except that Lustbader goes out of his way not too), many of them sorcerors, but it was always led by a powerful sorceress called Mother. Shortly prior to the arrival of the V'orrn, a cabal of male sorceror priests staged a coup and deposed Mother--but they'd reckoned without Miina, whose reaction was swift and decisive.

First, the members of the cabal lost their sorcerous powers; in addition, Miina gave each one an unmistakable mark--a sixth finger, black and clawlike, on one hand, and extended life in which to enjoy their punishment. The Pearl, the repository of Miina's wisdom, was locked away beyond retrieval. And Miina herself turned her back on her creation until the coming of the prophesied Dar-al-Salat--after which the V'orrn landed, unopposed in the aftermath of the coup, and began their bloody conquest.

The members of the cabal scattered into the wilderness, and were later known as the "sauromicians". I have no idea what "sauromician" means, or if Lustbader himself coined it; certainly, the only Google hits I get on it reference Lustbader's work. But it's certainly a delightful name for evil sorcerors. For sorcerors they had been, and sorcerors they were again, though of a different kind--for they took up the study of necromancy, a sorcery powered by the shedding of innocent blood.

The sauromicians appear in the previous book, The Veil of a Thousand Tears, but only in passing. In this volume, they come to center stage. The sauromicians have no affection for Miina, and hence no sympathy for the Dar-al-Salat; they now live only to acquire more power. Riane, the Dar-al-Salat, and her companions, must oppose them and prevent them from destroying one of Miina's sacred dragons.

So much for the plot, which is tolerably baroque (but fun).

This volume of the saga took longer to get moving than its predecessors, and struck me as less focussed--that is, it spent proportionally more time on subplots and less on the main plot, and some of the subplots seemed a little too drawn out. On the other, this is a many-threaded saga with a cast of hundreds, and I expect some of the subplots will have big payoffs in future volumes.

One of my principles in my own writing is to carefully control the revelation of the back-story. Ideally, the past history should be revealed slowly, with each fact inserted where it will do the most good. Lustbader's doing a bang-up job of this, with respect to both the history of Kundala and the history of the V'orrn. The Ring of Five Dragons is an intimate book, focussed on the Dar-al-Salat and companions, with a minimum of subplots. In The Veil of a Thousand Tears it's as if the world expands--we learn much more about the history of Kundala, and quite a bit about certain of the mysterious V'orrn technomancers, the Gyrgon, and the cast of important characters increases. And finally, in this volume it expands yet again.

I'm quite looking forward to the next book.

Posted by Will Duquette at May 30, 2004 01:49 PM