Fiona McIntosh,
Percheron #2: Emissary
(Eos, 2007)

Emissary is the second book in the Percheron saga, picking up from where the first book, Odalisque left off. Odalisque Ana is wracked with guilt over the events that caused the Protector of Percheron Spur Lazar to take her place and accept her death sentence. Her friend Kett has been made a eunuch, and she is now a resident of the young Zar Boaz's harem.

(Isn't "Percheron" the name of a breed of workhorse? I digress.)

What Ana doesn't know is that Lazar is alive and recovering on a nearby island, preparing to return. Also, she doesn't know that Pez, the shapeshifting dwarf who serves as Boaz's jester, thinks she might be the human incarnation of the goddess Lyana. He should know, after all, as he is the god Iridor.

Meanwhile, the chief eunuch Salmeo and Hezerah, Boaz's mother, conspire to murder Ana. Hezerah carries the title of Valide. She rules the harem, and she's afraid her son's attraction to Ana could lead the girl to challenge Hezerah's authority.

Finally, the demon Maliz has taken over the Vizier's body. People note a difference in the Vizier. He looks healthier and is more alert, and it doesn't really seem to make them overly suspicious. Both Boaz and Ana confide in him and trust him.

This is not a book that stands alone well. It is a transition book from Odalisque to Goddess, and it feels as if the action is dragged out to fill a book. That feeling may be due to my not having read the first book. I could not make a connection with the characters. It was like going to a party not knowing anything about anyone there, and no one bothers to introduce me.

Fiona McIntosh is a capable and descriptive writer, but I could have lived without every detail of her "preparation" for Zar Boaz, particularly the more humiliating aspects. Similarly, some of the other violence seemed gratuitous; the demon throws an elderly woman down a flight of stairs, smashes her around, threatens to rape her and then leaves her to a slow death. I can't help thinking that the first flight down the stairs would have killed her.

It may be the second-book syndrome again, but the story failed to engage me. When you strip away the trappings, it seems like a tired plotline dressed in new silks: a young ruler falls in love with a woman that his evil scheming mother dislikes. The mother enlists her minion to assist her in getting rid of the young woman. Meanwhile, a motley assortment of heroes waits in the wings to come to her aid, while in the background a Greater Danger Lurks.

Usually, when I don't care for a book, I can pinpoint why: bad writing, poor characterization, tired or ridiculous plot. Here, I can't identify it except to say that perhaps I've read my fill of dramatic, solemnly paced "sagas." I'd rather not read any more.

review by
Donna Scanlon

1 August 2009

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