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The Assassins of Tamurin

by SD Tower

(HarperCollins Eos, 454 pages, $25.95, hardcover; January 5 2003.)

Young Lale was discovered as a baby floating down the river by the natives of cover scana remote village in Fantasyland. She is reared by them but not loved -- indeed, she is made the scapegoat for all their ills. After one serious error she is socially ostracized by them, and so she flees to make her way in the world. Soon she is picked up by the Despotana (female Despot) of a neighbouring country, Tamurin. Taken there, she is schooled and eventually graduates to become, as she thinks, a religious acolyte. However, the Despotana's supposed convent is in fact a training academy for spies...

And so on.

This is an amiable enough tale and it's rather nicely written in a very simple, almost simplistic style; in most contexts the plainness of the prose might be tedious, even irksome, but here it works well. Lale is a likable heroine, and her best buddy Dilara is an extremely appealing figure.

However, despite the appeal of the telling, the tale eventually does indeed become tedious, because there seems to be nothing new here. There's a certain amount of magic, but nothing we've not seen before; overall, there's surprisingly little fantasy at all in this novel except for the fact that it's set in a Fantasyland ... which is much like any other Fantasyland, although at least not a straightforward clone of Middle-Earth.

"S.D. Tower" is apparently, to judge by the cover flap and the book's Acknowledgements, the joint pseudonym of "an artist and the internationally published author (under another name) of espionage thrillers". This may give a clue as to why The Assassins of Tamurin is so unambitious in terms of its content. There is, of course, absolutely no reason in theory why artists and the authors of spy thrillers shouldn't write groundbreaking fantasies -- just think of Mervyn Peake as a fantasy-writing artist! -- but this particular book has the air of one whose authors are proudly inventing the wheel, unaware that it's been invented before. Of course, a good many authors of generic fantasy do exactly this, repeatedly, and neither have the excuse of unfamiliarity with the field nor write so nicely; but that's a consideration of little relevance to the reader.

On the evidence of The Assassins of Tamurin, S.D. Tower may be an author to watch for the future, but with only moderate expectations.

Special mention should be made of the cover illustration, which is by Mark Harrison. Although it's in fact quite simple, it's very striking, probably due to the strength of its composition, and genuinely evocative. It made this reviewer's disappointment in the text perhaps more acute than otherwise it might have been.

Review by John Grant.

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