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Myrren's Gift: The Quickening, Book One

by Fiona McIntosh

(Orbit, £7.99, 662 pages, paperback, first published 2004, this edition published February 2005.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanMyrren's Gift (book 1 of The Quickening) is the first book published in the UK by Fiona McIntosh, though she has other books (the Trinity trilogy) published in Australia.

The story's central character is Wyl Thirsk, hereditary General of the Morgravian Legion. Wyl's father is close friend and advisor to the King of Morgravia, and as he grows up Wyl becomes equally as close to the King. However, despite the King's desire for their friendship to flourish, the heir to the throne Prince Celimus hates Wyl and takes every opportunity to humiliate him. On one such occasion Wyl is obliged to attend the torture and execution of Myrren, a young witch. Wyl does her the kindness of easing her death and she repays him by giving him a gift, the nature of which is initially unclear to Wyl. When the King dies and Celimus assumes the throne Wyl is in deep trouble. Coerced into a mission to the kingdom of Briavel, Morgravia's long time enemy, and separated from his loyal legionaries, Wyl is assassinated by the sellsword Romen Kareldy. At this point the nature of Myrren's gift becomes evident and Wyl's personality takes over the body of his assassin. Wyl must struggle to free the people he loves from the threat that Celimus's ambitions bring.

So far, so good. In the hands of a talented storyteller we should be in for a gripping adventure of classic fantasy. But we're not in the hands of a talented storyteller. Regrettably Fiona McIntosh displays all the errors of an inexperienced writer. She does not appear to have learned the fundamental disciplines of showing not telling, and maintaining her point of view. The world of Myrren's Gift is the default setting of feudal Europe plus magic, with added anachronisms such as readily available sugar and people eating potatoes (sugar was not widely available and affordable until the 16th century). The characterisation has limited credibility and interest: Prince Celimus is just too bad to be believable and another character, Fynch, an uneducated child sewer worker, talks just like a courtier.

All this might be tolerable if the plot was a real cracker, but it isn't. It takes a while to get going, rolls satisfactorily for a bit, then takes a major diversion when Wyl goes in search of Kareldy's past which does not contribute to the main plotline. Too many key events are driven by characters doing daft things. The climax requires the, hitherto sensible, young queen of Briavel to do two stupid things and then have a spectacular change of mind about Wyl to bring about the ending. There is little resolution of the main plotlines by the end of the 650 pages, with everything left 'to be continued in book 2' (Blood and Memory). I will not be reading it.

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