November 16, 2005

Lord of Snow and Shadows, by Sarah Ash

This is a book I picked up at Powell's whilst attending the Tcl conference; I'd not heard of Sarah Ash before, and there was a note on the shelf saying that it's a good book. I agree, as it happens, and I've already acquired the second book in the series.

Lord of Snow and Shadows is what I think of as a political fantasy--that is, a fantasy novel in which politics and intrigue are at the forefront, as with George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Ash's world is clearly though loosely based on Imperial Russia--but a Russia which is divided by an ocean from the rest of "Europe", and in which the empire splintered, generations ago, into five independent princedoms.

The prime mover in the political drama is Eugene, Prince of Tielen. Legend has it that the empire will be reunited by the man who reunites Artamon's Tears, five matched rubies which once adorned the imperial crown. Eugene is determined to be the one, and the only man who stands in his way is Volkh Nagarian, Drakhaon of Azhkendir--if man is the right word, which it probably isn't. Like all of his line, Volkh is the host of the Dhrakaoul: a violent dragon spirit which subjects him to sudden vicious rages, and whose shape Volkh can take at need. Not even an army can withstand the flame of the Dhrakaoul, but this aid comes at great personal cost to the Dhrakaon, and at times an even greater cost to his people.

Still, Eugene is not one to be balked, and in the opening pages of the novel he succeeds in having Volkh murdered...which sends the Dhrakaoul fleeing south to Volkh's son and heir, a young portrait painter unaware of his ancestry. Gavril Nagarian must learn to lead the unruly, barbaric people of northern Rossiya, and must somehow prevent the Dhrakaoul from consuming him utterly.

Not a bad start, I think; and the best part is that not only does Ash keep surprising me, but she plays fair in doing it. The climax of the book is everything one could want, and much to my surprise includes a plot point that some authors would have dragged out for three or four volumes. It makes me extremely curious to know where she's going, for I confess I haven't the slightest idea.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 16, 2005 09:18 PM