Tuesday, July 22, 2003

'White Dragon' leaves you wanting more

By Jeff Suess
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Do you love finding a great book, something you knew nothing about, which you then want to shove into the hands of all your friends?

Then read Laura Resnick. Her new fantasy fiction novel, The White Dragon, should get people talking. She lives in Cincinnati and she's the daughter of award-winning local science fiction author Mike Resnick but is quite a storyteller in her own right.

Fans of her 1998 novel In Legend Born (Tor; $7.99) will find more to love in The White Dragon, the first part of the two-volume sequel, In Fire Forged. Part two, The Destroyer Goddess, is due in December.

Resnick has complete control of her craft. Not a word is wasted.

Still, it's not a light read. The characters are complicated and real.

There are plenty of twists and surprises, and the pace quickens as you go.

Resnick's world is dangerous and exciting, yet it has a history and many hidden facets:

The often-conquered island of Sileria has been the jewel of the Valdan empire for hundreds of years, and until now, the native clans have been too busy feuding with each other to deal with their oppressors.

Then Mirabar, a fire-wielding prophetess, has visions of a hero driving out the Valdani.

Only she isn't sure who the hero is: Tansen, the warrior back from exile for killing his bloodfather; or Josarian, the mountain man leader of a growing rebellion.

Tansen and Josarian find ways to unite the clans against the Valdani as old enemies become temporary allies.

Many believe Josarian is the Firebringer, he who will free Sileria. All he has to do is jump into a volcano to prove he is. He survives, and the people rally behind him.

But the prophecy doesn't say how the Firebringer will drive out the Valdani. They will leave when Josarian is dead, so some of his allies betray him to Kiloran, a waterlord, who commands the mythical White Dragon to kill him.

The White Dragon picks up right where Legend left off. Resnick hasn't missed a step. Josarian is dead.

The Valdani are leaving, but now the mafialike waterlords have ended the alliance with the rebels and plan to take control of Sileria themselves. Tansen must lead the fight for freedom once again and avenge the death of Josarian. Meanwhile, he meets a sea-born boy who thinks Tansen might be the sea-king. Their bond echoes the relationship Tansen had with his bloodfather, told here in flashback. Now Mirabar has a vision that the future ruler of Sileria is a child of both fire and water, which sets off more speculation and scheming.

My favorite addition is the mad waterlord Baran, who has a longtime feud with Kiloran and may prove to be the key to victory for either side. Baran is refreshingly audacious.

Oddly enough, the title creature doesn't appear except in flashbacks to the first book. But the White Dragon's killing of Josarian is the catalyst for all that happens.

You don't have to read In Legend Born to appreciate the sequel. Resnick incorporates the high points of Legend into the narrative. But then you don't get to know Josarian and feel the full impact of his death. I highly recommend both books.

A word of caution, though: There are many similar names and unfamiliar words that make the first few pages slow going. But the voices and characters are unique, so while you may not remember a name exactly, you do know the character.

The White Dragon is definitely the first half of a book, not a complete sequel.

Nothing is resolved and the ending only offers more tantalizing questions. My only complaint is now I have to wait five months for the rest of the story.


Email jsuess@enquirer.com

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