Ice Mage by Julia Gray
(Orbit, £6.99, 535 pages, paperback; published 17 December 1998.)
Now here's a rarity -- a fantasy story that is self-contained, doesn't seem to be a part of any discernible series (at least, not yet), that actually ends. It will never sell, of course. The publishers (who are always right) say the fantasy market is about long never-ending series, more of the same re-packaged over and over again. Finding a singleton book in a shop is pretty much impossible, if only because it is overwhelmed by the shelf yardage occupied by Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Raymond Feist et al.
That's not to say that Ice Mage is wholly wonderful by comparison with the 'greats' in the field. Julia Gray's writing swings wildly between the excellent and the merely competent. The story she tells similarly ranges between the inventive and the derivative. At her best, Gray creates interesting characters and situations. At her worst, she throws out hefty sections of the plot as exposition, rather than telling the story through her characters.
The plot revolves around a young group of rebels known as the Firebrands, who are trying to revive the moribund art of magic, as a means of protecting their homeland of Tiguafaya, a place of menacing volcanoes, destructive fireworms and marauding pirates. The Firebrands act to control the fireworm menace, only to have their actions used against them by a corrupt but cunning clique plotting to take over the government. Soon, the Firebrands are outlaws in their own country, racing against time to save themselves and their country from tyrants, pirates and fireworm attacks.
Gray does manage to pull the reader into the story rapidly, and the characters are all good enough to engage attention throughout. There is enough here to suggest that Gray could make a very fine name for herself in the fantasy genre with later works.
Review by John D Owen.
Note: Julia Gray previously wrote under the name Jonathan Wylie.
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© John D Owen 17 April 1999