Sunday, September 17, 2006

Eastern Tide - Juliet E McKenna

Eastern Tide (Orbit) is the final book and satisfying conclusion to Juliet E McKenna's Aldabreshin Compass quartet (the preceding three are reviewed over on the Scholar's Blog: Southern Fire, Northern Storm and Western Shore.) It's now ten years since McKenna wrote her first book, The Thief's Gamble, and in those ten years her writing style has matured considerably, until the reader is presented with Eastern Tide.

The Aldabreshin Archipelago continues to be plagued by dragons and its people live in terror of the coming of the dragons to their island homes. Chazen Kheda, along with the poet Risala and the Northern mage Velindre, are chasing rumours of a water dragon, since they are the only ones who know the secrets of how to repel these fearsome beasts. In spite of the fact that they have saved hundreds of lives since the first dragon invaded the Chazen domain, they are forced to travel incognito, putting their lives at risk with their masquerade of the poet (Risala) and the zamorin scholar (Velindre disguised as a eunuch), and their slave (Kheda, who is really a warlord).

The ever-changing political balance between the island Warlords is teetering as various rival factions seek to gain advantage over their neighbours and warfare is threatened. Kheda finds himself reluctantly drawn into the rivalries as his fame as a dragon-fighter become more widely known. His apparent skill in defeating dragons is a powerful political tool and various Warlords seek to bribe, seduce (via their wives) or threaten Kheda into sharing his knowledge; but the one thing Kheda cannot do is reveal the source of his apparent power over dragons because then the lives of he and his companions will be at risk for they are tainted by forbidden magic from the Northern lands. If anyone was to uncover Velindre's true identity as a powerful mage from the feared island of Hadrumal, they would all be killed outright.

Unfortunately for Kheda, his contact with Northern magic has caused him to have doubts about the very foundations of his people's ancient beliefs in the reading of omens, which places his future as the Chazen Warlord in doubt and threatens the future health and happiness of his wife Itrac Chazen and their twin baby daughters.

To add to Kheda's woes, Velindre is forced to enlist the aid of another mage, Sirince; they discover there are more dragons in the Archipelago than they had guessed or believed; two of Kheda's former Daish wives have married out of the domain, leaving his unmarried son Daish Sirket in charge of the domain with only the support of Kheda's timid third ex-wife; Orhan, the son of Kheda's hated rival, Ulla Safar, is leading an uprising against his father - and he's proposing to marry Kheda's eldest daughter of the Daish domain !

This is a tense, thrilling, moving and thought-provoking finale to a fascinating series. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Eastern Tide is out on October 5.

The Aldabreshin Compass series: Southern Fire (2003), Northern Storm (2004), Western Shore (2005), Eastern Tide (2006).

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