Tanya Huff,
Fifth Quarter
(Daw, 1995)

Although Tanya Huff's Fifth Quarter is set in the same world as her Sing the Four Quarters, it does not follow the same characters and is set not only years after the events in the previous book but also in the Havorkeenan Empire, bordering on Shkodar where Four Quarters is set.

Vree and her brother Bannon are assassins trained since childhood to be the best the Imperial Army has to offer. Thus, they are chosen for a particularly difficult mission which unexpectedly goes awry. Gyhard, a powerful sorcerer, forces Bannon's kigh, his soul, out of his body and takes the body for himself. Without a second thought, Vree takes Bannon's kigh into her body so that brother and sister coexist within her.

If that isn't bad enough, their rush to track down Gyhard qualifies as desertion from the army, especially after Gyhard traps them into accompanying him to the capital. There he will give Bannon back his body, but at the same time take over the body of Prince Ottavas, the emperor's youngest son.

The narrative alternates between the plight of the assassins and an ancient, crazed bard with the ability to sing the "fifth" quarter -- the human soul. He uses his talent to create zombie companions of the newly dead. When he decides that the prince is the embodiment of a past love, the bard kidnaps Prince Ottavas before Gyhard can get anywhere near him. But the prince's friend, a feisty bard named Karlene, is "persuaded" to follow his trail along with Gyahrd, Vree and Bannon.

The novel starts a bit slowly, but the pace picks up once Vree and Bannon are forced into sharing Vree's body. In spite of their difficult straits, there is plenty of humor to season the fast-paced plot, and the horror of the zombies is both tempered and intensified by the madman's lonely motives. The characterizations are both compelling and convincing as Huff allows them to develop naturally, shoring up the character developments with neatly and inconspicuously inserted background material. These developments also make the conclusion of the novel convincing.

In Fifth Quarter, Huff once again demonstrates her ability to mesh a taut plot with living and breathing characters into an exciting reading experience.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 4 August 2001

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