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Thursday, April 22, 2010

"A Magic of Dawn" by S.L. Farrell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official SL Farrell Website
Order A Magic of Dawn HERE
Read an Excerpt from A Magic of Dawn
Read FBC Review of A Magic of Nightfall

INTRODUCTION: The Nessantico trilogy that ends in this novel consists of books that take place in relatively short intervals from three crucial years of the imaginary city's history.
The author's description of his wonderfully created City is the best:

Imagine Renaissance Florence blended with late Imperial Rome and spiced with some of the trappings of ‘fin de siécle’ Vienna: a great city of a far-reaching empire; a city situated at the center of civilization; a city where art and music and writing flourish, where the world’s greatest minds and greatest talents come to make their reputations, while the trade of a hundred lesser nations passes through the ports and the streets.

That is Nessantico.

At least to start with, in the Year 521 when it is the half century Jubilee of its ruler Kraljica Marguerite and the events of the first novel A Magic of Twilight take place. The series debut is almost a standalone in the sense that the second book A Magic of Nightfall taking place 27 years later in 548 keeps only a few of the main characters of it and somewhat severs the reader's emotional connection between the two books. However A Magic of Dawn which takes place in 563 so only 15 years later keeps most of the main characters of the previous ones, while the additions are natural and excellent, so these two books form a duology in the more traditional sense with a strong sense of continuity and together they are more than the sum of their parts.

In the following there will be inevitable spoilers for the previous volumes, while for more about Nessantico, the various magic systems, the nomenclature I did a more detailed overview in the review of A Magic of Nightfall linked above. The author put a lot of thought and care in the "little" details of chronology, social structure, magic, faith, worship and the glimmers of science, and the books contain excellent maps and appendices about the above.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "A Magic of Dawn" stands at about 550 pages of text and almost 600 total including the maps and detailed appendices. As in the previous volumes there are a number of pov's that appear in each of the 10 parts - at least as long as they are surviving of course - and the action is carried forward by weaving the pov's paths as they meet or separate.

The pov's are Allesandra (appears in all 3 novels, pov in "Nightfall", Kraljika of Nessantico of Firenczian origins), Jan her son and major political rival (pov in "Nightfall", Hirzig of Firenczia and dominant leader of the day), Brie (Jan's wife and mother of their 4 children, new character), Rochelle (daughter of famous assassin White Stone of Nightfall, new character), Niente (Westlander magician and pov in Nightfall), Sergei (pov in all novels, soldier, diplomat, first councilor of Allesandra and pillar of Nessantico), Varina (pov in Nightfall, "heretic" Numetedo leader and trusted adviser of Allesandra), Nico (pov as a child in Nightfall, now a powerful and charismatic conservative religious leader opposed both by the Church and by the Kraljica).

"A Magic of Dawn" is epic fantasy with a bent towards intrigue, politics and faith but with lots of action too and written in a very clear and enjoyable style that makes pages almost turn by themselves. The novel concludes the trilogy in a very satisfactory way and the Nessantico Epilogue with the city as a pov makes for quite an elegiac finish. I would love more novels set in this universe at some point in the future of "A Magic of Dawn".

ANALYSIS: When "A Magic of Dawn" starts, fifteen years of consolidation have passed since the tremendous events of 548 when the Westlanders came from over the seas and sacked Nessantico only to be repelled by the Firenczian army. However partly as payback for her intrigues, partly because he did not want to take the blame for the forthcoming hardships, Hirzig Jan named his mother Allesandra as Kraljica instead of taking the reunified throne and expected the Nessantico Holdings to fall apart so he would easily pick up the pieces as the obvious "savior".

However it did not work that way since Allesandra proved formidable and kept the Holdings more or less intact and even tried though somewhat halfheartedly to get back territory from the Firenczians who are still the dominant power. But now the Westlanders stir again, while Allesandra confronts a direct challenge when gifted and charismatic Nico Morell claims to speak in Censi's name and demands a restoration of "true faith", including the reformation of the Church and the conversion or execution of the heretics, most notably the "atheists" Numetedo who had become quite a power in Nessantico with their "science" used to help the Kraljica in critical ways.

This is roughly the situation when "A Magic of Dawn" starts and what follows is a whirlwind tale of intrigue and war, love and faith, prophecies and redemption with magic, battles, assassinations, secret relationships, but also families and their shared joys and sorrows.

While action and relationships power the novel, several of the main characters stand out as persons, while Allesandra is the embodiment of the "larger than life", fallible for sure but quite resolute leader. Jan is more pragmatic and compromise oriented especially that he has a great partner in Brie who is the best realized character in many ways, with her love of husband and children, small insecurities but also resourcefulness and leadership. Grandma that sends presents or "that wicked woman" in Nessantico is a tough choice for four young children to make and to her credit Brie manages to hold as much normality as possible in her family.

In a secret corner of his soul, Jan still pines a little for "Elissa" aka The White Stone despite knowing for sure that at Alessandra's behest and to make him Hirzig after all, the assassin killed his beloved uncle Finn who served as both "older brother and father" figure instead of the drunkard and later rebel nobleman that was Allesandra's estranged husband.

Sergei is the usual commanding presence even now a little shrunken with age, with Nessantico as his supreme "mistress" so before he dies he wants to broker a lasting peace and eventual reunion of the two states under Jan or his children since after all they are the natural heirs to Nessantico.

Rochelle was one of my favorite characters and despite her heritage on her mother' side and her having taken up the mantle of The White Stone at least temporarily, you cannot but wish her success in her endeavor of somehow getting to know and be known by her father and even maybe by her step-brothers and sisters.

Outside of the main power figures of the novel, the two hinges of "A Magic of Dawn" are Nico and Niente who both have some similarity in the great magical powers they possess as well in their belief in their "destiny", though of course that destiny is to be quite different for each. And since with great power, comes great responsibility both Nico and Niente have to eventually face up to that also. And of course from the "secular" side there is another "magician" of some power but also greatly respected as a community leader, Varina of the Numetodo who has just lost her beloved husband - and former pov in both previous novels - Karl as time does not spare anyone after all. Since for a while Varina was almost like a mother for Nico in his troubled childhood, she just cannot believe that the charismatic young man is publicly demanding her death for heresy...

The interaction between the characters above powers the novel and for me "A Magic of Dawn" was a perfect ending for a very good A-level series, with volumes 2 and 3 quite outstanding as series connection goes too.



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