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    Review of ILLUMINATION by Terry McGarry (see her website)

    Tor, 2001

    The day she passes her exams and becomes a full illuminator/mage, Liath abruptly loses her power. She still has the light within her--the light that marks her as a potentially powerful mage, but without the ability to cast, she is nothing. Nothing, that is, except a trap. Because the rulers of the island have detected a renegade--one of their own who has turned to the magic of death and darkness. The darkmage, Torrin, desperately needs the power of a bright illuminator. Magic is strongest when cast in threes--scribers, illuminators, and binders. Torrin is a powerful scriber. He won't be able to resist Liath's light.

    Liath's search for Torrin takes her over the island and lets her see the way that the old order is breaking down. Mages exist to serve, but too many are being called and too little is being returned. The heads of the mages have lost touch with the people. Still, when Liath finally reachs Torrin, she can't believe what he tells her--that everything is a lie. Of course, what else would the darkmage say and, even though she is powerless, he harbors fantasies that he'll be able to use her light, to recreate her power.

    Author Terry McGarry offers a strange and beautiful world and magic system. The triads, which prevail through magic and everything else in her world, make a strange kind of logic. McGarry has fully developed the world Liath and Torrin live in--you can almost feel the power of McGarry's research behind the words--although the book is fairly long, I suspect that McGarry has notebooks upon notebooks of family trees, biographies, and personal histories. While this background is fascinating, it can also detract from the story. And story is one area where Illumination falls a bit short. I enjoyed the novel, but I would have liked to see Liath have more of a personal stake in the story goal. Her search for Torrin, with the promised reward that the Ennead might be able to heal her--when they'd already failed--doesn't ring true for me. Her indecision and conflict when Torrin shares his side of the story is convincing but, after all, indecision doesn't make for compelling action.

    McGarry's writing and world-building are strong enough to overcome these story weaknesses and I certainly enjoyed ILLUMINATION. This was McGarry's first book. I look forward to reading more and seeing if she evens out the rough spots and fulfills her promise in becoming one of the fine fantasy writers of today.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/12/04

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