(Voyager, £12.99, 630 pages, trade paperback, first published
1 November, 1999.)
The Khanate of the Kazraki has fallen on hard times. The Great Khan,
Gemet, is a greedy despot, steeped in violence, who
to the throne over the slaughtered bodies of his brothers. Ten years
of misrule and brutality has brought the Khanate to the brink of disaster.
When news reaches Idres Warkannan, a Captain in the Khan's cavalry,
that one of the Khan's brothers still survives, in the far distant Vransic
Cantons, he immediately sets out from the border, across the boundless
plains, in a desperate bid to find this man, Jezro Kahn, and bring him
home to claim the throne.
Unfortunately for Idres, the Great Khan's sinister and remorseless
secret police, the Chosen, have also heard odd rumours from the Cantons,
and have despatched an agent, Zayn Hassan, to track them down, and deal
with any stray ends that might have been overlooked.
To add a little spice to what starts out as a straightforward race
between the two men, it swiftly emerges that they were both, at one
time, subordinates to Jezro Khan, and indeed close friends.
The plot, however, rapidly complicates. Zayn, falling in with a clan
of the nomadic Comnee people, who inhabit the plains, begins to doubt
his mission, even his proper place in the world, while Idres, guided
by the disturbingly obsessive Sorceror Yarl Soutan, finds himself balanced
between his belief in his mission, and his distaste for the man who
is guiding him. The Comnee folk themselves, in the person of a Spirit
Rider (shaman), Ammadin, become involved in the race to reach Jezro
Khan, while all the participants find themselves forced to negotiate
with the strange, Centauroid ChaMeech, another intelligent species who
inhabit their world.
Katharine Kerr has been writing heroic fantasy, of a consistently high
quality, for a good fifteen years now. Her epic Deverry series (eleven
books out so far, with a twelfth expected), is her major work, but will
probably conclude with the next volume. Other projects, such as the
Polar City duology (intense and well-plotted science-fiction with strong
elements of detective fiction) have demonstrated that her literary range
is much broader than just fantasy.
Snare, however, is a disappointment. It contains mild echoes
of themes that dominated the Deverry novels; the eruption of an unwanted
foreign element (humanity) into a world where they have no proper place,
the conflicts and struggles between a settled, medieval society, and
a nomadic one that borders it, the quest to understand the obscure origins
of the situation that the protagonists find themselves in, but this
feels like little more than an author's nostalgia for a well known world
There is, regrettably, little that is truly vivid or original in the
book. There is, sadly, a flatness to the characters, who have markedly
little physical presence, and a definite lack of tension in events.
The several societies depicted in the novel (Khanate, Cantons, Plains
Comnee, ChaMeech) have their exotic elements, but they don't seem truly
alive, certainly they lack any compelling freshness.
At six hundred and thirty pages this book, which should be a taut race,
is a long, slow amble. Admittedly it has well-written prose and technically
interesting premises, but these do not make a good story without the
spur of sharp conflicts and vibrant characters. If, as one suspects,
Kerr is now looking for a new series to embark on (with the end of the
Deverry sequence in sight), one can only be relieved that Snare is a
reasonably complete standalone novel, with no need for a sequel.
Review by Simeon Shoul.
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