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The Eye Of Night
Pauline J. Alama
Bantam Spectra paperback $5.95

review by Amy Harlib

Pauline J. Alama, an American writer garnering praise for her genre short stories, offers an excellent debut fantasy novel rich in creatively developed settings, characters, plot and magical elements much of which involves gods and ghostly entities mingling with mortals.

Set in an invented pagan medieval world beset by chaos and verging on collapse, The Eye Of Night's story is narrated by Jereth, sole survivor of a shipwreck that wiped out his family. Now a disillusioned ex-priest of the Rising God, Jereth writes of the events of his own life reflecting a disintegrating world with the Troubles emanating from the North and manifesting in the form of earthquakes, floods, social upheavals, seasons and climate out of whack causing failing crops, and the fraying of time and reason. All this disturbs and awakens restless spirits of the dead.

While the haunts and the disruptions slowly spread southward overwhelming land after land, the wandering Jereth joins with an enigmatic, unusual duo: the elegant, refined-looking yet simple-minded Lady Trenara and her caretaker Hwyn, a battered, dwarfish young woman hiding a shrewd mind even as she uses her fine singing voice and some other dubious skills to help earn their keep.

Hwyn, it turns out, possesses some mystic gifts that enable her to become the bearer of the eponymous Eye of Night, a talismanic object that seems to be the egg of the legendary Sky-Raven. Preparing itself to give birth, the Eye communicates to Hwyn that she and her companions have been chosen by the gods to fulfil a prophecy: to buck the tide of refugees and bear the uncanny object in their keeping to the North, where its hatching could bring about utter destruction or the reflorescence of something miraculous.

On their journey to the heart of darkness as it were, the trio encounter a myriad of cultures and persons, many offering danger and threats, some benevolent and giving, but all fascinating and all involving mystical manifestations of various sorts. These exciting adventures contribute to the maturation of Hwyn and Jereth. Their relationship develops in very interesting ways that include very moving romantic dimensions - Trenara, all the while, remains a mystery until some very surprising revelations at the end.

A great deal of the magic in this refreshingly character-driven story involves spectral beings that interact with the protagonists in ways that literally force them to confront the ghosts of their pasts. Thus, Alama takes standard fantasy novel tropes and cleverly adds excitement to the plot proceedings and deepens the characters, the lengthy but always absorbing and fascinating text spacious enough to develop richness of people, supernatural incidents and background detail.

Jereth proves an engaging narrator; the prosodic rhythms in his descriptions of emotions and environment contain just enough archaic flavour to give the reader a genuine feeling of immersion in the mindset of another time and culture without being stuffy and off-putting. Extensive descriptions of rituals and ceremonies, including quotes of prayers to various deities and song lyrics add a very welcome poetic and bardic touch, the verses sometimes offering provocative spiritual concepts to ponder concerning this invented world's religions. Alama, through her fictional alter-ego, portrays a belief system integral to the plot in which the forces of nature and the cycles of annihilation and rebirth arise from the Great Wheel of the Gods: the Rising God; the Bright Goddess above him; then the trickster-like Upside Down God to the right; and finally the Hidden Goddess.

Read The Eye Of Night and discover an intricate, well-conceived world in which pagan spirituality and magic plays a very significant part along with the believable emotional ups and downs of the compelling characters. The book's adventurous travels, supernatural thrills, mythic resonances and depth of feeling along the way to a spectacular climax makes this fantasy an auspicious beginning to hopefully a long and prolific writing career for Pauline Alama. We should all keep an eye out for whatever she does to follow up on this book.
Eye of Night

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