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    THE BURNING CITY by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

    Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 2000

    Whandall Placehold is a Lordkin. In Tep's Town, that means that he is descended from ancient conquerors and hence can take whatever he wants from the kinless. Coupled with the fact that Lordkins are occasionally posessed by Yagen-Atep, the fire god, and run around setting the city on fire, this makes Tep's Town an unfriendly and dangerous place to live. Whandall is finally able to escape, along with a kinless bride, but Morth, last magician from Atlantis, compells him to return and confront his (very real) demons.

    This collaboration between Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell (see other reviews of novels by this author) is set in Niven's The Magic Goes Away universe. Magic has gradually been fading but it remains a real force and gods can still call up incredible power. Tep's Town is surprisingly free of magic--the result of decisions made by its residents and its resident god--except when the god is able to wake and reclaim the fire. Whandall is a classic fantasy hero. He questions society and his place in it. Eventually, he undertakes the hero's quest, returning with the (quite literal) treasure.

    There were a few obvious loose ends that Niven and Pournell failed to tie down. What exactly happened to the kinless woman Whandall raped and then saved--and what happened to the child she bore? Shouldn't there have been a more complete closure to the childhood relationship between Whandall and Shanda? Finally, who cares about the fact that Tol's Town is set on present-day L.A.? Still, once the action gets going, the reader forgets to quibble. Niven and Pournelle have colaborated on a number of novels and clearly have learned to work together to build intriguing worlds with ever-increasing danger and excitement. Whandall's relationship with his god, and the overall concept of a fire god who is part Loki and part Prometheus, was especially well developed. The writing is so compelling you'll find yourself thinking about the book when you should be driving or working or whatever.

    Four Stars

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