Dia Calhoun,
(Winslow Press, 1999)

Dia Calhoun's debut fantasy novel, Firegold, is a compelling and original coming-of-age story.

Jonathon has always been different from the other Valley dwellers, if only for the blue eyes which mark him for suspicion from the brown-eyed Valley folk. Blue eyes are considered a sign of potential madness in adulthood, and as a result, blue-eyed babies were left to die in the mountains. By the time Jonathon was born, the practice had been discontinued, although Jonathon's father, Brian Brae, made the effort to get an official waiver to protect his son.

But Jonathon is also considered different because of his family, particularly his mother, Karena, who came to the Valley from the north and who never quite fit in with the Valley women. Jonathon's father, a fiercely proud man, has carried on his family's obsession of searching for the legendary Firegold apples, and that coupled with his wealth and skill at planting trees has led to resentment and suspicion from the community.

The Valley folk don't like anything that disrupts the rhythm of their lives; they want to till their orchards and observe their rituals, and they live in fear of attacks from the Dalriada, the tribes that live in the Red Mountains and ride magnificent horses, and who are said to have horns. But Jonathon has seen a Dalriada girl near the village, a girl with eyes as blue as his own. The implications are clear; he must have Dalriada blood in his background. While hurrying away, he finds a stone from the Red Mountains, a red stone carved with a horse, which awakens strange visions in him. Then his father returns from one of his expeditions to the mountains with the extraordinary Dalriada horse, Rhohar, and all their lives are changed in a heartbeat.

Jonathon is eventually forced to leave the Valley and is drawn to the Red Mountains. Yet he is not certain that this is where he belongs, either. The answer, he discovers, is both obvious and a complete surprise.

Calhoun writes vividly, evoking a definite sense of place, and her characterizations are superb. She draws well-rounded characters who develop naturally and realistically, and the book is leavened with a light touch in the character of Uncle Wilford.

The plot moves swiftly, and the pace increases as the story progresses. Calhoun has a good eye for detail, and her writing appeals to all the senses. True, there are places where the writing falters, and certainly there is room for the writer to grow, but Calhoun is off to a flying start.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Firegold from Amazon.com.