Two theocratic societies clash in this solid if predictable fantasy from Strauss (The Arm of the Stone). Overthrown decades ago by an egalitarian revolution that quickly evolved into a totalitarian state, the Brethren of the Way of Arata have regained power in the largest of the seven nations of Galea. The Brethren, incarnate Sons and Daughters of the First Messenger who revealed the Way of Arata 12 centuries earlier, are aided by those gifted with the powers of Dreaming (astral projection) and of Shaping (the ability to transform inanimate material). Vowed Aratist and Shaper Gyalo travels south to investigate a rumored community of "lost" Aratists existing in the harsh and holy Burning Land. If Gyalo survives his perilous journey, he will discover an enclave called Refuge. The people of Refuge, guided by the revelations of their first leader, believe they are the last remnants of humanity. Gyalo's mere existence either challenges their faith or fulfills it. Axane, a daughter of Refuge's elected leader who has hidden her ability to Dream, dreams of Gyalo and his expedition. She recognizes her world is not as she has been taught. With both sides believing the other is blasphemous and heretical, disaster looms. The novel's interesting exploration of a messiah-like character's struggle with his faith outweighs the more melodramatic role of Axane, who's a standard fantasy heroine, strong yet vulnerable, obedient yet rebellious. In the end the author lays a firm foundation for an eventual sequel.
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Recently liberated Arsace has reclaimed its capitol and its principal temple. During the preceding period of oppression, however, the usual suspects were at work, creating tension between secular and sacred estates. And, so rumor runs, an elite caste of sorcerers, the Shapers, developed some ethically questionable practices. In secluded Refuge, young sorceress Axane has dreams that disclose a host of dangers to Refuge's static society. Meanwhile, a male Shaper, Gyalo, has to lead an expedition to Refuge, perforce crossing the Burning Lands in the process and later discovering truths about Refuge unknown to its inhabitants. Inevitably, Gyalo at first looks like the deadly menace of Axane's dreams, but much magical learning and common sense and a certain amount of chemistry dispel that delusion, leading to not only love but also the basis for making common cause against evil. Marion Zimmer Bradley's strong influence enhances appeal for newcomers to Strauss, and readers of The Garden of the Stone (1998) and The Arm of the Stone (1999) will be impressed, but not surprised. Roland Green
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