David Zindell,
The Lightstone
(Tor, 2007)

In format, this is a very standard quest, epic fantasy novel, that bears a strong resemblance, from a distance, to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and also has many elements from the Arthurian legends (e.g., a sacred sword given to the hero by Lady Nimau, a.k.a. the Lady of the Lake). There are also a smaller number of parallels to Jennifer Roberson's Sword series and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

In The Lightstone, Valashu Elahad is the peace-loving seventh son of a king of the small but historically great Kingdom of Mesh, and he answers the call of a neighboring king to go on a quest for the Lightstone, a golden cup, forged from an ancient, powerful crystal called a gelstei. All of the world, called Ea, is threatened by Morjin, the Lord of Lies, who might be immortal and might even be a fallen angel similar to Lucifer. As Valashu heads off on his quest, he gradually collects six companions, each from a different race of Ea.

Maram is a prince and a would-be monk who struggles to keep his vows; Master Juwain is a wise, older monk; Atara is a beautiful warrior-princess; Alphanderry is a minstrel of unsurpassed skill and good cheer; Kane is the world's deadliest swordsman and a typically nomadic hermit; Liljana is a widowed noblewoman of great skill at various crafts. As these seven journey in search of the Lightstone, they find ancient gelstei, of various kinds, and find undiscovered skills within themselves.

The most interesting character here is probably none of the seven, but their nemesis. Morjin, the Red Dragon, the Lord of Lies, is a man or being of seeming physical perfection and tremendous eloquence. He visits Valashu in his dreams and tries to enlist his help to find the Lightstone. Together, according to Morjin, they can use the Lightstone to turn Ea into the beautiful world of peace and love of which Valashu dreams. But, if you say no to Morjin, his beauty and eloquence slip away, briefly, to reveal the monster beneath the golden veneer.

The story is well written, flowing rapidly and smoothly, and the settings are described in enough detail to create strong mental imagery. I like the characters, although they fit well-used archetypes and resemble, for the most part, characters in other, well-known epic fantasies. Kane strongly resembles Tolkien's Aragorn and Atara resembles Jennifer Roberson's heroine of Sword-Dancer and its sequels.

What I liked most about The Lightstone was the bad guy. Morjin is pure evil wrapped in angel's clothing. He professes the same goals as the hero and details his plans to achieve a world of beauty and love and peace. He tempts all by striving for wonderful goals. But is any of it true? It could be. Maybe he has been misunderstood or has found redemption or has only done terrible things to avoid even more terrible things. Or he just lies creatively and marvelously well, and it's all a trap, and he wants to kill, kill, kill and drink the blood of his victims and crucify all who dare oppose his greatness!

If I had not read The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, the legends of King Arthur or ... many other epic fantasies, I would be saying, "Wow! What a great idea! A quest, involving a company of diverse heroes, who find ancient talismans of power, and join together to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe! How new and inventive!" But, I have read them. Morjin is one of the more original aspects of this tale, but he is also Lucifer, fallen from Heaven and seeking to regain sovereignty and power.

The list of heraldries and gelstei at the end of The Lightstone strongly resembled the appendices at the end of each volume of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire series. But, in fairness, I think there was slightly more originality here than in Christopher Paolini's Eldest, and it is certainly written better, and is definitely less boring.

Note: This is as much the beginning of a trilogy or series as is Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, and is as incomplete. The story goes so far, and then stops, to be rejoined in the next book.

review by
Chris McCallister

4 August 2007

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