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Guardians of the Keep: Book Two of the Bridge of D'Arnath

by Carol A Berg

(Roc, US$7.99/Canada$10.99, paperback, 544 pages, 2004. ISBN: 0-451-46000-6.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

Five stars.

If you haven't yet read the first book in this series, stop here and go back to that one. Guardians of the Keep makes no sense cover scanwhatsoever if you haven't read Son of Avonar first. The geography, timeline, and especially character relationships are too complex to be nutshelled.

Seri is trying to pick up the scattered pieces of her life, after her husband comes back from the dead -- more or less -- and travels to another world to seek healing for his ravaged mind. So Seri returns to her family home, Comigor, to deliver news of her brother's death. (Don't miss "The History and Legends of Comigor Castle" at the beginning of the novel; it's a delightful if spooky short-short in its own right.) It proves difficult for Seri to connect with her sister-in-law and nephew, who still consider her a witch. A brief meeting with her beloved Karon/Aeren/D'Natheil is more frustrating than satisfying. And when her nephew Gerick is kidnapped, Seri must upset the balance of worlds to pursue and rescue him.

As in Son of Avonar, it's the characterization that really drives this story. The characters all do what they do because they are who they are, and consequences be damned. They each have their own gifts and flaws and loyalties. The charm lies in watching Seri struggle to overcome her bitterness, Karon/Aeren/D'Natheil work on piecing together his shattered identity, Gerick fumble his way toward adulthood.

Yet all of these individual quests twine together around the unifying thread which is the still-enigmatic Bridge of D'Arnath, dividing -- or perhaps uniting -- two worlds. The action here is more straightforward in time than was Son of Avonar, a definite improvement in my mind; instead the skips are mainly from one person's perspective to another. Carol Berg shows marked improvement in storytelling skill from her previous books to Son of Avonar, and from that first book in the series to Guardians of the Keep.

If you love dark, compelling fantasy full of adventure and intrigue, this is it. You also won't find a better reminder that your own life could suck a lot worse than it does. Guardians of the Keep will keep you turning pages all the way to the end. Just ... don't read it right before you go to bed.

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