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The Ninth Talisman
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Tor, $15.99, 315 pp
Published: October 2014

Don’t let “Volume Two of the Annals of The Chosen” deter you from reading this book, but of course you’ll enjoy it more if you have read The Wizard Lord first, and you’ll be happier if you also have The Summer Palace to hand, so you can continue where The Ninth Talisman leaves off. This is a great trilogy, my favorite work by Watt-Evans (so far.)

In the kingdom of Barokan, wizards and lesser wielders of magic mediate between the spirits of Nature and human communities and activities. Travelers who go by roads need Pathfinders to keep them safe; spirits of the land must be placated before a town is built; good harvests are as much a product of intercession on the part of a town’s priestesses as of the planters’ labors; without magicians to manage the weather - storms, drought and sudden frosts would endanger everybody, from sailor to husbandman to merchant. And not all spirits are benignly inclined; some have become tainted, or gone mad. Worse, some men have found that power can be wrested from such dark spirits and used to compel others.

The foremost wizard, as chosen by fellow wizards, is elected Wizard Lord, and the Wizard Lord’s ultimate responsibility is to safeguard the kingdom from harm, whatever the source. But what safeguard is there if the Wizard Lord himself perpetrates harm?  The Chosen are men and women imbued with magical powers by the talismans they wear, powers great enough to bring down even an errant Wizard Lord. In the aftermath of one such battle, the Chosen see a new Wizard Lord established to rule in Barokan. (This is the subject matter of the first book, and if you wish to avoid spoilers, do read it first, and read this review no further.)

Breaker, the Chosen Swordsman, is troubled by these events and their outcome, and wonders whether the entire system of wizard-kings is inherently flawed. To his surprise, the new king seems to wonder the same. This wizard heralds in a new age of independence from magic, causing roads to be built, forests cleared, troublesome spirits eradicated; men suddenly enjoy new freedoms, trade and commerce thrive. All who benefit from his innovations revere their new Wizard Lord, and young men and women who formerly had no life beyond that of their village flock to him by the thousands to form his personal army. Breaker, curious to hear what the Wizard Lord he helped set on the throne has to say, travels to the seat of power where he asks questions, finds some startling answers, and even more questions – but these go unanswered.

Breaker begins to see a downside to all these wonderful improvements. Men can travel freely on the new roads, but the priests and priestesses in every village sicken and feel their connections to spirits, and their very powers, wane. Bandits begin to take advantage of those very roads. Far worse, storms such as have never been known in Barokan since the age of Wizard Lords are now threatening crops and homes across the kingdom.

When the Leader of the Chosen summons the others to conference, they agree that these changes may constitute harm to the kingdom, and it is their duty to investigate. The Wizard Lord is very accessible, very reasonable, Breaker reports, so they set out to answer once again the age-old question that is the heart of all political philosophy: Who, or what, guards (against) the Guardian?

Whether or not you foresee the outcome of their adventure, the story is climactic and compelling. At the end I promptly went on to locate the sequel.

If you go to Lawrence Watt-Evans: The Misenchanted Page you can order these and other books directly from the author, and if you email your request for autographs he is happy to oblige, no extra charge. Or you can buy this edition to encourage Tor to keep publishing great stuff. Either way, with Watt-Evans, you are sure to get a great story well-told.  ~~ Chris R. Paige

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