Tanya Huff,
Wizard of the Grove
(DAW, 1999)

Wizard of the Grove brings Tanya Huff's first novels Child of the Grove (DAW, 1988) and The Last Wizard (DAW, 1989) together into one volume.

Through a chain of cosmological events, the setting for the book is created by the Mother who also creates the Elder Races of hamadryads, giants, centaurs, dwarves and merfolk. She bears a son, Death, to another being, Chaos, and creates human beings for Lord Death to rule. In turn, humans create a pantheon. The gods mate with mortals and produce wizards, all of whom turn on their fathers and destroy them. The wizards enjoy a reign of oppression and terror, but meet their Doom when they create dragons, never realizing that these beasts would turn on them and destroy them. Thus concludes the age of the wizards.

Yet one wizard, Kraydak, survives, concealing himself until he is certain he is safe. He attaches himself as adviser to the king of Melac and begins to plan his conquest.

Raen, king of Ardhan and his son, Rael, lead an army against the invading forces of Melac, and their victory is won at a price that is far too high.

Four generations pass and a princess of Rael's line bears a child, Crystal, who is prophesied to be another wizard who could defeat Kraydak. Trained for six years by centaurs, Crystal is yet untried, but she has little choice. When she is 17, she returns to ride to war with her parents, for Melac's army, under Kraydak's control, is poised to invade Ardhan.

Crystal's battle is not without great cost, particularly because of lack of experience. She makes mistakes -- which she cannot afford -- but she finally takes a course of action which is her last hope of defeating Kraydak.

She is surrounded by intriguing characters who exhibit odd traits for a fantasy; although the dwarf, Doan, is irascible, the centaurs are pedantic and literal-minded and the remaining hamadryads in the Grove where Crystal is conceived are, well, bitchy and petty.

Lord Death also makes and appearance, and the characteristic that makes him stand out is his ability to morph his face into those of the dead. He has little to do with Crystal in the first book.

The second book, The Last Wizard, takes place some 12 years after Crystal's battle with Kraydak. She spends much of that time wandering, often in the pleasant company of Lord Death, but it is risky to reveal herself as a wizard. Still, while staying at an inn, she draws on her extraordinary power to save the life of a man savaged by a beast called a brindle. Drained by the effort, she is sheltered by the innkeeper. As she recovers, she befriends Jago, the man she saved, and his older brother Raulin. They ask her to join them on an adventure to find a wizard's tower and the treasure therein, but she declines.

While traveling on her own, however, she discovers that using her power has unleashed the goddesses who created her. If she allows them to take control, she will literally fall apart. Resolving to use her powers as little as possible, she hooks up with Raulin and Jago to look for the wizard's tower.

It is a difficult journey marked by snowstorms and an attack by wers, but the trio persevere, picking up a giantess named Sokoji as a traveling companion. Lord Death also tags along. He conceals his presence when he can because he has fallen in love with Crystal -- a rather inconvenient situation for an incarnation of mortality. The crabby but kind Doan also makes an appearance as Crystal finally finds her place in the world.

Both books are laced with humor, as if Huff refuses to take herself or the fantasy genre too seriously. Overall characterization is good, although Raulin's randiness gets wearing after a while. Lord Death is not only intriguing, he seems to be a precursor for Henry Fitzroy in Huff's vampire novels featuring private investigator Vicky Nelson.

There's not much new in terms of high fantasy in this duology, but Wizard of the Grove is very good for early novels, heralding the writer that Huff will become.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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