Dawn Cook,
First Truth
(Ace, 2002)

It is a challenge to come up with interesting and original twists on fantasy themes, but Dawn Cook meets that challenge admirably in First Truth.

The farmers of the foothills and the craftsmen of the plains mingle only on market days, and even then, their contempt for each other is clear. Alissa is an exception; her father was a foothills farmer, and her mother came from the plains. Although rejected by the farm community, she is loved by her parents, although her father was called away when she is 5. He never returned.

Fourteen years later, Alissa's mother sends Alissa away precipitously to cross the mountains and find the mythical Hold where, she claims, Alissa's father went. Certain that her mother has lost her senses but finding herself with few options, Alissa and her kestrel, Talon, set off on their journey.

Before long, her path hooks up with that of Strell, a plainsman who was sent off to be a minstrel instead of learning the craft of pottery, and whom disaster left homeless. The two decide to travel together, Strell to return to the coast after getting Alissa to the Hold.

At first, their journey is marked with acrimony and mistrust, but as they learn more about each other, friendship grows. When Alissa begins to channel another person, a Master kept prisoner in the hold by Bailic, a rogue Keeper, Strell resolves to stay with her.

Bailic allows them to stay at the Hold as winter arrives just as they reach it. He doesn't know who Alissa is, but he suspects that one of them knows something about a book, the First Truth, which Alissa's father concealed somewhere near the Hold. The cat and mouse game begins.

Cook's writing is lively and often humorous, and her characters are delightful. It is so refreshing to read fantasy where the heroes and the villains are complex and well-rounded characters, rather than the All-Good and All-Evil cardboard characters populating too many fantasy novels today. The story is tightly plotted and suspenseful, with a cliffhanger ending guaranteed to send readers to haunt bookstores, waiting for the next book.

I'll be one of them.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

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