Flameweaver Paperback – Dec 1991
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Just as little did the wisewomen of Gandhara expect their system of protection to begin to fail them after millennia of effective defense. But the Russians' new weapons don't seem to care much about magic, and the Gandharans realize they must fight fire with fire. Tamai, who has never been able to control her magical powers sufficiently to join the wisewomen, is expendable; she is sent on a mission south into the Raj to acquire the fabulous weapons known as Martini-Henry rifles. Little did the wisewomen expect the fables of the Raj to be real..."
REVIEW: This journey / quest novel brings an isolated, primitive, fantasy city of women's magic head-to-head with historical colonial India, shocking both sides. Margaret Ball employs her always-skillful characterizations and plot twists. I read it in a single sitting and loved it.
Gandhara was originally sited in the same area as Peshawar. The invasion of the White Huns led to the relocation of the town to a valley among the mountains. They hid the town with illusions and other magics.
Gandhara is ruled by the Council, a group of wisewomen. Girls learn the Disciplines from an early age. Young women become wisewomen after they birth their first child.
In this novel, Tamai is a young woman of Gandhara. She is barren due to sexual assault by several KamKhel Kanjutis. She enjoys discussions of the outside world with traders.
Mirjan is Tamai's former husband. Now he is married to Chakani, who is pregnant.
Paluk is Tamai's favorite cousin. He is almost as good at hunting as she is.
Halvidar is the Dhi Lawan -- Daughter of Light -- and head of the women's Council.
Sunik is a wisewoman and a member of the ruling Council. She is a friend of Tamai.
Kazhirbri is a wisewoman and a member of the ruling Council. She cannot lightweave.
Shushibai is a wisewoman.
Louisa Westbrook is the wife of Gordon Westbrook. They have two children, Alice and Harry.
D. B. Vaughan is a Colonel in the British Army. He commands the 17th Infantry Regiment.
James R. McAusland is a Lieutenant and Political Officer in the British Army. He speaks several languages, including Urdu.
Dushmuni is Tamai's golden eagle. She is very fond of Tamai.
In this story, Tamai is taking the test to determine if she can be a wisewoman. Despite three efforts, she cannot produce an illusion of a walnut tree from the dried hull. She does dispel Kazhirbri's illusion of a cedar grove, but Dhi Lawan decides that she has failed.
Mirjan is waiting when the Council members descend the ladder. He has news of a stranger crossing over the river from the south. Kazhirbri asks about his wife.
Mirjan and Tamai are recruited as guards for the wisewomen. The select a place where they can see the boulders in the river. When the stranger tries to enter their borders, the wisewomen project illusions to confuse his sense of direction. He stumbles back across the river and the KamKhels attack him.
Afterward, Paluk comes looking for Tamai to go hunting. He brings her jezail and Dushmuni with him. She goes with him to shoot a goat.
They return to the city before the dancing starts. Tamai is a very good dancer. She joins some of the women for a line dance.
Then the dance is interrupted by a wisewoman. She is speaking unintelligibly and pointing north. Tamai rushes to the north gate.
The Rus have crossed the northern pass and shot Sunik. They have rifles much like her jezail. They can kill from a distance.
The Council puts wisewomen as sentries along the border, but the Rus change their tactics. They are now burning the crops. Kazhirbri is wounded by the Rus and Shushibai is killed.
Tamai receives a vision of the incident. The Dhi Lawan asks her to join the fight against the Rus. Tamai has the best jezail in the city, but is also the best shooter with the weapon.
After the Rus have burned most of the crops, Tamai decides to go south to buy more weapons like her Martini-Henry. Paluk insist on going with her. They avoid the tribal villages as they travel.
Meanwhile, Louisa is seeing off her children as they return to England. Gordon doesn't want them to grow up speaking Urdu and dressing like the natives. Louisa very much misses her children.
Gordon leaves to find Gandhara. After six weeks, the native servants clean Gordon's study. They place all of Gordon's notes in a single pile. Louisa decides to replace the notes in their original stacks. As she reads the notes, she starts to learn the language of Gandhara.
Then the Colonel comes to visit her. He believes Gordon in dead, but Louisa refuses to accept his death. Vaughan considers her arguments and agrees with her.
Vaughan sends McAusland north to track Westbrook. James has several self-selected Bashgulis as guides. The British officer believe they are more interested in his rifle than him.
When they reach a KamKhel village, the headman invites McAusland into his home. James stows his pack and rifle in a room below the dining room. The Bashgulis become argumentative and he drops down to grab his rifle.
Tamai and Paluk reach the village from the north. The terrain has boxed them in and the only way around it involves returning through the pass and coming back throut the next. They head shots from the area. Tamai dresses as a wisewoman and enters the village.
Tamai rescues McAusland and takes him with her back to Peshawar. Along the way, she manifests various magics. James considers her a wisewomen, but Tamai keeps saying that she has no magic.
This tale brings Tamai to the house of Louisa. Louisa interprets for Tamai in her attempts to buy rifles from the English. Tamai considers her much too submissive to the males.
Tamai eventually dictates a treaty with the English. The next installment in this sequence is Changeweaver.
I have read many tales written by this author or coauthored with others. After I started writing reviews, I decided to write about her works. After three moves in a decade, her books were lost in the great stack of future review volumes. This is my first review of her works as a lone writer.
Highly recommended for Ball fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of foreign cultures, the Hindu Kush, and a bit of romance. Read and enjoy!
-Arthur W. Jordin