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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Storm Glass by Maria Snyder (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Maria V. Snyder Website
Read the First Chapter from Storm Glass
Order Storm Glass HERE

INTRODUCTION: Sometime ago I opened just by chance Poison Study by Maria Snyder. I tend to browse weekly the sff racks at Borders and Barnes and Noble, but Ms. Snyder books are usually - though not always - located in the Romance section, so I really forgot where and why I picked Poison Study up. The moment I opened it, I was hooked (see why in the excerpt HERE) and I *had* to read it then. It stayed great to the end and I enjoyed Yelena's adventures a lot.

Luckily the next book Magic Study was also available then, so I got it and read it immediately and while it lacked the freshness of the Study debut, it was a very enjoyable read. Not only that but I subscribed to Ms. Snyder's newsletter to get asap the installments of her related short stories that she has made available so graciously HERE.

The ending of the trilogy, Fire Study became a buy on publication and indeed it turned out to be a great finale to the series. The Study trilogy became a personal favorite and the voice of the narrator Yelena Zaltana is ultimately what made the series so enjoyable for me.

When the Glass series featuring Opal Cowan who is a secondary character in the Study novels was announced, I was both excited and apprehensive. Will Opal's voice be as fresh, but also different from Yelena's? Will the series manage to keep my interest in the Sitia/Ixia universe?

I am happy to say that the first book met my high expectations and I read it the moment I got it not being able to put it down unless I *really had* to.

OVERVIEW: Storm Glass takes place about four years after the end of the Study trilogy and picks up the general Sitia/Ixia setup where Fire Study ended. It is self contained, though being a series opener it ends with a To Be Continued sign, but no cliffhanger.

All the necessary back story about Opal's earlier adventures, her "One Trick Wonder" nickname given by unkindly or simply jealous Magician's Keep classmates, her sisters Mara and Tula, is given in the book at a moment or another, though of course I strongly recommend reading the Study series first.

The neighboring countries of Sitia and Ixia are quite different. Sitia to the south and ranging from temperate climates to jungles is a mostly pastoral land of magic and autonomous clans that are very jealous of their independence and their specific skills. The Cowans are famous glass makers among other things, the Zaltanas famous herbalists/"naturalists" living in the southern jungle-like part of Sitia, the Sandseed clan has a fierce desert outlook...

The Master Magicians living at the Citadel, the one real town of Sitia and the regular specialized magicians help the clans, but essentially the Clan Council is ruling a federated state, in so far as any "ruling" happens.

Ixia to the north is a militarized state divided in Military Districts each commanded by a General under the leadership of mysterious Commander Ambrose who overthrew the Kings of Ixia with the help of the (in) famous spy-chief and immune to magic Valek, and banished magic and magicians.

There used to be an order to kill on sight any magic user in Ixia, though the events in the Study series relaxed that, but the Ixians are still very uneasy at the thought of magic despite their new alliance with Sitia. Despite the grim sounding military rule, Ixians are actually living better under the Commander than under the degenerate kings, with everyone employed, having what to eat, being educated regardless of gender... Neither country is perfect of course as we find out in the books, but neither is *bad* or *evil*.

Opal Cowan our 19 year old narrator and lead character was introduced above.

Zitora Cowan at 25 is the youngest Master Magician (3rd in rank) in Sitia and even though only 6 years older than Opal, she is much more sophisticated and takes the accomplished glass maker and fifth year student Opal under her wing- they share the same clan surname, but they are not otherwise related.

Pazia Cloud Mist from a rich mining clan on the Ixian border is Opal's main rival at the Keep. An accomplished magician and already talked as a possible future Master Magician, Pazia envies Opal for her fame and friendship with Yelena and never forgets to slight Opal for her undeveloped magical talents. "One Trick Wonder" and even more unflattering and downright unpleasant stuff is the lot of Opal under Pazia's hazing.

Ulrick (Cowan) is the son of Cesca, an accomplished glass maker, business partner and friend of Opal's father Jaymes, and a wannabe glass maker and magician on his own; Opal remembers him from childhood as snotty and besotted by Opal's beautiful elder sister Mara.

Kade Stormdancer is a powerful young Stormdancer, using his magical power to blunt the powers of the storms on Sitia's coast and trap them in special glass orbs.

Leif Zaltana is of course familiar to us. Yelena's brother and engaged (or almost so) with Mara, he is his cynical but ultimately well intentioned self from the Study series throughout this book too. There are many cameos of various characters from the previous stories, including Yelena, and favorites like Ari and Janco.

Storm Glass stands at 488 pages divided into 31 chapters. It starts with a nice map, so we can follow the Clan territories and where the action takes place easily. The narration of Opal is just wonderful and her voice is *different* than Yelena's, while the ending is great since it wraps up the main thread of the book and opens new vistas for book two, due later this year and another asap novel for me.

ANALYSIS: As with other books that depend essentially on the reader's enjoyment of the author style and of the narrator's voice, Storm of Glass being Opal's tale will be strongly dependent on the reader's liking and caring for Opal, Kade, Ulrick and the rest.

While events relating to the "big picture" stir in the background and I expect them to play an increasing role in the next Glass books, Storm has a relatively simple main thread.

Something is failing or someone is sabotaging the Stormdancers Orbs, Opal as an accomplished glass maker with a specific even if not that strong magical talent that allows her to actually "feel" glass, is sent out help out figure why, and mysterious villains with unclear intentions intervene and complicate matters.

The novel just rolls from the first page to its ending and it's a fast and exciting read. Opal's meeting with Kade and Ulrick and her relationship with both are an essential part of the story, but ultimately Storm Glass is an adventure fantasy and it succeeds admirably from that point of view.

We explore a lot of Sitia in Opal's wanderings and even venture a bit into Ixia for good measure, and as things get clearer as the book progresses, they also become more complicated with Opal being forced into some difficult choices. There are some several surprises, including a great twist close to the end that also opens the way for the next installment and Storm Glass has everything a fantasy adventure should have: fast pace, daring escapes, nasty villains, great heroines and heroes and it is just pure fun.

One thing that stands out in comparison to the Study series is the detail of Sitian life. We explore isolated villages on the edge of the sea, markets in the Citadel, internal politics of clans and much more. Ixia is very well portrayed in Poison Study, but even though the next two books of that series take place mostly here, we really get a good understanding Sitia only in Storm Glass.

Though Sitian by birth and a strong (though with very specific powers) magician to boot, Yelena was raised in Ixia and she is an outsider, so the Sitia we experience through her eyes is strange to us too, despite that it contains her family, her relatives and her peers. Opal is raised here, so she really belongs and it shows. This nuance is one more testimony to Ms. Snyder' skill in creating two distinct voices as narrators.

As another *personal favorite* with characters that grew on me and which I enjoyed as much as the original Poison Study that started it all, I got immersed in the book end to end and did not notice any "wrong note" so to speak.

Highly, highly recommended.


Mishel (P.S. I Love Books) said...

Wonderful review Liviu! I haven't started the Study series yet but I totally plan on it. I really love the covers of that series and the new Glass series as well. I definitely need to get started, especially since Sea Glass will be coming out later this year.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words. Very eager for Sea Glass too

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