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spurrierThe second volume of this epic fantasy is a clever and engrossing tale exploring cruelty, enslavement, magic and power.

In Winter Be My Shield, Book One of the Children of the Black Sun series, we were introduced to the Blood-Mage, who controls a form of telekinesis. This power takes the form of extraordinary energy, which can be unleashed to devastating effect. Those who possess this power, properly trained, are more or less invincible, for they gain it through the suffering and torture of others. In this first book, Sierra, a Sympath, and a nascent Blood-Mage if corrupted, escaped Lord Kell and his powerful apprentice slave, Rasten, both Blood-Mages, who were using her in cruelties committed in the name of the rulers of the Mesentreian realm. Sierra was found snow-blind and exhausted in the northern realm, Ricalan, by other exiles – Prince Cammarian and his foster-brother Isidro – who had been given a form of protection by the Wolf Clan of Ricalan after having been driven from Mesentreia.

Towards the end of Book One, a third power, the Akharian Empire, began to make inroads into Ricalan in its search for slaves and for books believed to be held in a place of strong magic, books that would help their Battle-Mages, whose mage power rejects the use of torture. Rasten, sent to find Sierra by the Mesentreian rulers, made it clear that he hoped to join with her and overthrow the brutal Lord Kell.

When Black Sun Light My Way opens, Sierra is a slave to the soldiers of the Akharian Empire, having voluntarily joined them as a result of betrayal by Ricalan soldiers. Being a Blood-Mage, or having any mage power, is anathema in Ricalan and she has narrowly escaped being returned to Lord Kell. It is difficult for her to control her surges of power and Cam and Isidro are keen for her to learn more about such control. Rasten, her old enemy, also wants her to become more adept. He is able to communicate with her and help her control her power telepathically.

The action is unrelenting. Each page offers more and more adventure and danger. The status quo is frequently reversed. For example, the powerful Akharian academic and mage, Delphine, who travelled to Ricalan with the Akharian army, is tricked and overpowered. Isidro, Sierra’s lover, has been Delphine’s slave and he has recovered his health under her fair treatment, but when one of the many skirmishes occurs she is neutralised. She had been searching for the same information that Isidro, Cam and Rasten hope will give Sierra the training she needs; the lore of a long-dead powerful mage, kept in the Demon’s Spire, where the group finds refuge. Here, Delphine begins to undergo a change of attitude:

At first dreams of revenge had been her only comfort, but as time passed Delphine found it hard to keep the vitriol hot and seething. Every day, it seemed she was confronted with a hundred little things that stole her fire. She saw the women who had been slaves gathered round a stove talking and laughing in a way the slave-masters would never have tolerated, sorting through the wreckage of the camp or just washing clothes in the warm water below the cascade, reclaiming their old lives with small freedoms. After the attack on the installation, she was even more aware of what they had endured night after night in the slave camps, and how fortunate she‘d been to escape the same fate.

Ricalan is a snow-covered world of cold and desperate survival. Spurrier’s crisp delineation of the privations of living in furs and tents with spruce-strewn floors heated by stoves is both beautiful and chilling. The wintery environment is almost like another character in the story, so vibrantly is it rendered. As well, the intensely involving writing makes the nature of the power of mages and their special artifacts very clear, almost palpable.

This is a very sophisticated work, rather like the best historical fiction but not hampered by the need to appear factual. It deals clearly and insightfully with issues that affect our own world: slavery, homophobia,  the treatment of women and revenge. Spurrier blends these themes into a fast tale of conflict and intrigue, but the psychological aspects of these conflicts and intrigues are given distinct space within the story. The first book dealt largely with the setting of the tale, but Book Two has a distinctly political nuance. Self-interest and double-crossing, as well as the cruelty of those in power, are spelt out. As well, the magical, mystical ramifications of mind-power are creatively revealed.

There is a fair deal of cruelty and brutal damage graphically described, but I didn’t find myself cringing. I think this is because the descriptions are part of the plot rather than included for effect. However some people might need to be aware of what to expect:

The priests fell, shrieking and screaming; Sierra threw her head back at the sudden rush of power as the corrosive energy burnt through their clothes and ate into their skin like acid.

There is also a strong sexual ambience throughout; decidedly heightened by the mage power of the protagonists.

As the story progresses, the characters change and develop. Sierra becomes infinitely more dangerous, even to her friends. And the villain, Rasten? Well, he becomes more intriguing and likable. Another charm for readers is that so much is revealed slowly through twists and turns in the plot and through the changes in experience and attitudes of the characters.This is a very clever and engrossing read indeed.

Jo Spurrier Black Sun Light My Way: Children of the Black Sun, Book Two Harper Voyager 2013 PB 473pp $29.95

Folly Gleeson was a lecturer in Communication Studies. At present she enjoys her book club and reading history and fiction.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s here or from Booktopia here.

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