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Friday, June 22, 2007

"Deepwood" by Jennifer Roberson

Official Jennifer Roberson Website
Order “DeepwoodHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Ms. Roberson

For a while now I’ve been aware of Jennifer Roberson. After all, she’s been writing since the mid-Eighties (mostly fantasy) and has developed a dedicated fanbase with such series as the Chronicles of the Cheysuli and Sword-Dancer featuring Tiger & Del, as well as receiving critical acclaim for her collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott on “The Golden Key”. It wasn’t until last year however, that I finally had the opportunity to sit down with one of Ms. Roberson’s novels, and since “Karavans” was the opening volume in a whole new fantasy world, I thought it was the perfect jumping on point for me. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed and have been anticipating the book’s follow-up “Deepwood”, of which thankfully there wasn’t a long wait.

Looking back, “Karavans” was a typical set-up novel. It focused mainly on worldbuilding, laying down the groundwork for the story, and introducing a diverse cast of characters – Audrun, Davyn and their children Gillan, Ellica, Torvic and Megritte; the Shoia guide Rhuan and his partner Darmuth; Rhuan’s cousin and courier Brodhi; fellow courier Bethid; and hand-reader Ilona among various other supporting players. So, plot-wise, there may not have been a lot going on as some readers have criticized, but personally I had no problems with this aspect of the book since Ms. Roberson does such an excellent job with the rest of the novel. For instance, all of the many characters were intimately established and I loved the unique, richly crafted world that was being brought to life, which included a land (Sancorra) war-torn by the conquering Hecari with their fearsome ‘decimations’ (1 in 10 persons are killed to set an example); the magical Shoia who can be killed and resurrected from death up to six times; and the mythical Alisanos, a sentient forest that lives & breathes magic, transforms all that may venture into its grasp and can change location at will.

Of the actual story, – SPOILERS AHEAD!!! – it’s a relatively simple scenario as a family joins up with a karavan in order to travel to a peaceful province in order to safely have their fifth child as foretold by numerous diviners. The only catch is that they must skirt the borders of Alisanos to do so, and only the Shoia guide Rhuan can safely lead them…that is, until Alisanos decides to move. Obviously, if you’ve read “Karavans” then you know all this and what ends up happening, but if you haven’t, suffice it to say that it’s strongly recommended that you do so; otherwise you’ll be left in the dark regarding a lot of important details. Anyways, as one might expect, events drastically pick up toward the end of “Karavans”, and readers are left with a cliffhanger finish that finds a number of characters consumed by Alisanos

…which is where “Deepwood” immediately picks up. Viewpoints are once again many switching from Rhuan, Audrun, Gillan, Ellica and Torvic who are all trapped within Alisanos to those left outside its borders including Brodhi, Ilona, Davyn and Bethid. Within Alisanos, readers will get to follow Rhuan & Audrun as they not only try to survive, but also recover Audrun’s lost children. Along the way, we’ll get to learn more about Alisanos – its magic, how it changes a person, its inhabitants including the one thousand gods, and its strange customs. Of those that survived Alisanos’ relocation, we’ll see Ilona deal with her loss of power; Bethid aid the survivors with their recent tragedy while further developing the rebellion against the Hecari; Brodhi continuing his rite of passage among the humans; and Davyn coping with the fact that all of his family is now ensnared by Alisanos. We’ll also get to learn more about Rhuan & Brodhi who are much more than just Shoia, as well as various other little subplots and surprises that Ms. Roberson has cleverly devised. And while many issues are resolved and questions answered by the end of “Deepwood”, just as many new ones are brought up, promising another sequel in “Wild Road”, which is tentatively set for a 2008 release.

All in all, “Deepwood” is another terrifically written and exciting fantasy adventure by a veteran author who knows how to capture and maintain the readers’ attention. Really, the only issues I had with the novel was that it was shorter than “Karavans” (about 100 pages), we didn’t get to learn much more about such interesting side characters as Darmuth & Ferize, and certain storylines like the Sancorran’s uprising against the Hecari and Audurn’s child born four months ahead of term weren’t developed as much as I wanted, though I think we’ll get to see both of these plots expanded on in the next volume. So, aside from these minor complaints, I don’t really have anything negative to say about “Deepwood”. It’s a fun, action-packed fantasy that builds on the imaginative mythos of its predecessor and will appeal to readers of all ages. In short, I definitely enjoyed both “Karavans” and “Deepwood” immensely, look forward to many more adventures set in this universe, and hope also to experience the numerous other novels that Jennifer Roberson has to offer…

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