Jessica Rydill,
Children of the Shaman
(Roc, 2003)

This fantasy is set at the time of the Great Thaw, following 500 years of Great Cold. After their father's desertion and mother's death, Annat, 13, and her brother were brought up by their father's twin, Aunt Yuste. Their father, Yuda, is a powerful shaman, a healer telepath with psychic abilities who has been summoned as doctor to the distant outpost of Gard Aldemar. The family are Wanderers, a people despised and feared by the Doxoi, who enforce a dull dress code to remind them of their shame; the Wanderers themselves voluntarily observe certain other strict religious codes, along the lines of the orthodox Jewish faith.

Annat and 18-year-old Malchik first encounter their father in the company of two Darkmen; Sival, Yusta's old teacher, and Shaka, Yuda's lover. Malchik is unhappy about his father's unashamed sexuality and has conflicting emotions about their reunion; Annat doesn't fully understand and is exhausted by the journey. As she settles down to sleep, her old wooden doll -- a gift from her mother -- speaks to her and warns her of dangers ahead, but she tries to discount it as a dream.

The next day they begin the long rail journey to the Great Forest, with Yuda as Chief Guard and Shaka as the engineer. Along the way, Annat gains some insight into a shaman's traits and powers, which she first uses during an attack by the Soul Men. She also learns that her doll is more than it seems, and Malchik is spirited away to the legendary land of La Souterraine. The journey to rescue him is fraught with danger; things are seldom as they seem and the shamans are constantly battling evil on physical and mental levels, forcing Annat to leave her childhood behind as she rapidly masters her own shamanistic abilities.

Jessica Rydill has chosen not to follow the traditional fantasy format for her debut, although Children of the Shaman is undoubted fantasy. There are some astonishing twists and turns in the plot, and it is an enjoyable and refreshingly different read.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 22 November 2003

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