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Western Shore

by Juliet McKenna

(Orbit, £7.99, 592 pages, trade paperback, September 2005, ISBN: 1841493767.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanWestern Shore is the third book of Juliet McKenna's Aldabreshin Compass series and continues the story of Kheda, warlord of Daish. At the opening of the story Kheda is in his new home in the Daish archipelago where his new wife has just been delivered of twin daughters. Despite this Kheda is not a man at peace; Daish is only beginning to recover from the invasion of the wild men and dragons described in Northern Storm and Kheda fears another onslaught. In a society that abhors the use of magic, he knows that he needs the assistance of mages if he is to protect his people. He concocts a plausible excuse for his absence and with his lover Risala, water mage Velindre and one-legged earth mage Neldreth he sails away in search of the wild men. They find a land where seismic instability produces vast amounts of natural magic which draws dragons to it and produces prodigiously powerful wizards amongst the primitive population. Kheda and the mages are tested to the limit in their attempt to destroy the threat to their peoples.

As I've come to expect of Juliet McKenna the world-building is of the highest quality. The world of Western Shore is a very long way from the default setting of feudal Europe plus magic that so many fantasy writers employ. A lot of thought and research has clearly gone into the societies she creates. Nothing is introduced that doesn't integrate completely and serve its purpose; yet this is achieved smoothly and unobtrusively. The characters are solidly drawn and believable throughout. The story opens rather slowly, setting up the plotline, but once rolling the pace does not slacken; something of an improvement over some previous books which were episodic and dragged somewhat. The conclusion, unusually for Juliet's work, is merely a convenient break point for the tale, which is left 'to be continued'.

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