ElizaBeth Gilligan,
Silken Magic #1:
Magic's Silken Snare

(DAW, 2003)

ElizaBeth Gilligan's first book deftly weaves fantasy, herbalism, history, romance and murder into a complex and intriguing pattern. The central character, Luciana, wakes to hear the owl hoot three times -- and knows that her younger sister has died. A Rom (gypsy), she confirms the omen by reading her cards, and soon has a letter from her sister-in-law Queen Idala, expressing her sorrow for Alessandra's untimely death. Idala's letter alludes to more mystery; it seems Allessandra was accused of murdering her fiance, and her own death is interpreted as murder or suicide. Luciana, grief-stricken, shoulders the responsibility of vendetta; she does not believe her sister would commit the sin of suicide, especially dying in her own bed, a suspicious place for a Rom to die, instead of under the stars and in the open.

The sisters are members of the Romani royal family, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the production of their famed Gypsy Silk, which is imbued with magical qualities and is a major part of the Tyrrhian economy. Now with Allessandra's death, the burden of this is totally Luciana's, but as "Araunya" she also holds more clout at court than as just Duchessa di Drago, sister-in-law to the Queen. Always at the base of her worries is the prolonged estrangement that is apparently by her husband's choice -- he has spent years away from her, not even returning to comfort her at the loss of their stillborn son, and he puts his duties as a member of the royal family and governing body, the Palantini, before any personal life. Stefano and his young ward, Prunella, will never understand the duties which Luciana is honour-bound to fulfil under her gypsy heritage, and so she evades his command that she stay safely on their estates, and instead travels with Prunella and her two faithful gypsy servants, Nicobar and Kisaiya, to the court of King Alban and Queen Idala.

Immediately on her arrival, she is plunged into the muddy and dangerous waters of court politics and powerful intrigue. Despite her desire to discover as much as possible about the tragic death of her beloved sister, the unexpected arrival of her husband Stefano means that every independent action of hers sets her at odds with the protective attitude of the man she still desperately loves. She must consolidate her place as Araunya and discuss matters with the Silk Guilds, step carefully around the feelings of her husband, counsel the distressed queen, offer edited insights to the king, protect the royal family against a deep and deadly plot, foil poisoners and assassins, deceive and uncover evil sorcery and work highly dangerous magic; all while walking the fine line between her Romani honour and the perceived gentility and dutiful demeanour expected of a duchess connected with the royal court. Her difficulties escalate and she must draw on hitherto unrealised strength of determination to try to achieve rest for her sister's abused and tormented soul.

Luciana is well-written, a strong female lead character among many other secondary strong characters, yet not without her weaknesses and foibles. The surrounding foil and counter-foil that is the life-blood of courtly power is believable and we quickly understand that there are several unpleasant games being played by unidentified players for some very high stakes. The story is focused on fantasy, but mythical Tyrrhia alludes to the open door that Sicily provided for those fleeing persecution from the Inquisition: Jews, Romani, Huguenots and others; there apparently was a silk trade in Sicily, and of course the Roman Catholic church has clashed more than once with royalty seeking to define their regal and God-granted rights within or without the blessing of Rome. On occasion, the story seemed to dwell overlong on certain aspects, while not pausing long enough to give sufficient background or information on others, but overall the plot sped along, and carried me with it as fast as I could turn the pages. It was with an abrupt sense of loss that I realised I had reached the end of the story and must now wait impatiently for the second installment.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 6 September 2003

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