Douglas Niles,
Circle at Center
(Ace, 2000; 2002)

Circle At Center is the first in the Seven Circles trilogy, and is a classic tale of good-versus-evil enlisting the full spectrum of Faerie -- elves, dwarves, gnomes, goblins, trolls, giants, centaurs, fairies, talking dogs and humans -- as players. The realm of the Seven Circles encompasses all we may know of fantasy worlds, and the balance maintained therein affects the future of everything. Nayve, the Fourth Circle, is the center of all, and at the heart of Nayve lies the Center of Everything, the Worldweaver's Loom.

The rarefied life of the peaceful elves who live in the Circle at Center contrasts dramatically with the prologue; a bloody and violent ritual culminating in the death of a valiant warrior during the ascendancy of the Aztec empire. Natac, honoured even by his enemies for his noble conduct and experience in the art of war, is transported by a druid's spell into Nayve and given new life in this alien realm, where his wisdom and warcraft will soon be needed. His code of ethics and character will be pivotal to the events that follow.

Natac is introduced to the other legendary warriors who have preceded him, and he witnesses by druid sorcery the fearsome weaponry and tactics that continue to decimate his fellow humans on Earth -- the Seventh Circle. All too soon, a tragic twist of fate leads to terror becoming reality in the Fourth Circle, and death comes to a land where lives last millennia. We become involved in the destinies of Belynda, an elven sage-ambassador, who learns how to hate; Karkald and Darann, seer dwarves fleeing the savagery of their Underworld foes, the Delvers; Miradel and Darryn, human druids using their powers to try and stave off disaster; and assorted other unique characters who wax and wane in importance throughout the story.

Douglas Niles does a competent job of tale-spinning, keeping the threads tight, the colours bright and the pattern interesting, balancing action and reflection, sorrow and joy. Familiar themes are given new perspective and, although the tale itself is fairly predictable, it is an enjoyable piece of escapism that retained my interest throughout the book. The originality of several occurrences and consequences cause the book to elude the banality suffered by many similarly themed fantasy stories, and I will look forward to reading its sequel, Worldfall.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 18 January 2003

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