Judith Tarr,
House of War
(Roc, 2003)

House of War, the second book in Judith Tarr's duology, takes place about a decade after the conclusion of Devil's Bargain. The time gap allows a reader unfamiliar with the first book to read House of War without having to know what transpired in the first book, and indeed this book is impossible to put down!

Tarr presents an alternate history to the reign of Richard the Lionheart, in which he is King of England as well as Jerusalem. His illegitimate half-sister Sioned's ancestry allows her access to both the Welsh faerie sight and the demonic powers of Anjou's Devil's brood. These demonic powers once endangered Richard's soul, but Sioned eventually battled evil on his behalf and defeated it. This allowed a time of respite from the ancient evil which has now returned to threaten the kingdoms. The Old Man of the Mountain, Sinan, has returned to strike at the heart of his enemies, and although Sioned managed to defeat him before with an army of jinn, this new threat only proves how indomitable Sinan truly is.

The main characters in Tarr's novel really come alive: the magical child Teleri, daughter of Sioned and her magician husband, Ahmad-al Malik al Adil Saif al-Din, sultan of Egypt; Teleri's Jewish friend Benjamin, himself a gifted mage and son of Judah, the medical advisor to King Richard; Sioned herself, more than just a powerful sorceress; Richard and Ahmad, each at the mercy of their kingdoms and restless nobility; the determined old Queen Eleanor; and the embittered, lonely and neglected Berengaria, the ignored and childless queen of the homosexual Richard. All the characters interact and react in believable ways, despite the deep line of magic running integral to the story.

Berengaria's poisoned mind allows access to the world again for the once banished Sinan, whose strength grows on the slaughter and bloodshed of the innocent. The only hope now is for the white magicians to find the long lost fabled Ark -- only its power can defeat Sinan's insidious and spreading stain of evil. Tarr blends the colours of historical facts with the richness of a magical plot, and the reluctant Richard must again rely on magic, which he detests, to try and win the war against Evil.

The battling and distrustful characters of different religions must try to work together in their joint quest against an evil that threatens them all. The emotions and arguments seem so real, the war scenes are bloodily descriptive and the romantic interludes exquisitely tender, while the evil exudes horror and despair throughout and threads of magic hold the story together with vibrant colour. Tarr makes one think she has a passport to other realms to write so realistically about fantasy!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 22 May 2004

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