Epic high fantasy this good comes along only once in a while! Standing with the best of the field, Sean Russell's Swans' War series has enchanted readers and critics alike with its fascinating tale of good and evil, romance and violence, magic and mystery. After years of bitter enmity, the battle for power between the Renn and the Wills families has reached a fever point. Fleeing a forced marriage, young Elise Wills has made a desperate bargain with a dark river spirit to save her own life. It is left to the wanderer Alaan, together with a band of brave companions, to find Elise -- even as the dark knight Hafydd hunts Alaan for the secrets he possesses. But if Alaan cannot free Elise, the entire kingdom will be consumed in a bloody war between unquiet ghosts.
In this enjoyable follow-up to the well-received first book in the Swans' War series, The One Kingdom (2001), Canadian author Russell (River into Darkness) offers more superior high fantasy, with a large cast of fully developed and carefully observed characters, many familiar from volume one. In order to escape a forced marriage, Lady Elise Wills has merged with the dark river spirit, Sianon, to the dismay of her intended, Prince Michael of Innes. With the three Valemen Tam, Fynnol and Baore she sets out to find the mysterious wanderer, Alaan, whom she hopes will help to reconcile her to her new powers and to defeat her enemy, the dark knight Hafydd. In his own quest for Alaan, Hafydd is not above using treachery, sorcery and guile to achieve his sinister goals. As the action ebbs and flows around the known lands of the Kingdom of Ayr as well as the hidden magical lands, the author explores traditional themes of good and evil, though not everything is strictly black and white. Just as all paths led to Westbrook Fair in the previous book, so do all the principals come together at the Isle of Battle, with the fate of the warring Renne and Wills clans hanging in the balance. Despite the many disparate story threads, the narrative flows easily, building in intensity from a firm steady pace to a powerful climax that will keep the reader happily waiting for the next installment of this classically composed fantasy. Agent, Howard Morhaim. Author tour. (Aug. 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 31, 2003
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Excerpt from The Isle of Battle by Sean Russell
Torches guttered and flared, haloed in the mist that boiled above the river. No body had surfaced, though that was of little comfort to Prince Michael of Innes. He walked knee deep in the slow-moving river, feeling the mud give softly beneath his boots, half afraid that he would stumble over Elise Wills motionless on the bottom.
"What a foolish act!" he whispered to himself. Foolish and desperate, but had he not considered the same thing himself . Escape from Hafydd ' escape at all costs.
He found the whole evening strange and unreal. Even his feelings seemed veiled, as though this same cold mist was all that moved within his heart. Elise was gone . . . yet he didn't believe it. Her own father had said she couldn't swim. She'd gone into the river rather than let their marriage serve Hafydd and his ambitions. Rather than marry me, the Prince reminded himself.
Voices sounded along the shore, muffled in the murk, but there was no elation in those calls, no sudden joyful discovery to blow the clinging mist from his heart.
The Prince set one foot down in the ooze, then the other. A ghost of anger made itself felt, though distant and unformed. He cursed Hafydd under his breath, the words swirling out in a fine mist.
A blunt-ended punt loomed out of the fog, its masked and costumed inhabitants drawing quick breaths of surprise as the prince appeared in the haze: a man, strangely costumed walking on water. A ghost.
After all the madness at the Renn ' Ball, a ghost should have been expected.
One of Hafydd's revenant honor guard hurried by along the bank, a torch held high, forcing back the night and illuminating the wraiths of mist that swirled around them. Prince Michael prayed that they would find Elise alive ' and prayed that they would not. Such a courageous act should not end with being dragged from the river, drenched in failure. She deserved better than that. It was selfishness alone that made him hope she would be found, still among the living.