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    Review of THE DUKE'S BALLAD by Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie


    TOR, January 2005

    Three years before, Aisling had fled Kars and her evil brother, Kirion--who sought to drain her power for his own purposes. Now, she is a trained mage and ready to return. As she re-enters Kars, a geas overtakes her--she must somehow rid her nation of her evil sorceror-brother and the Duke whom Kiron has put in place and sustains with his magic. Along with a second brother, a family friend, and a cat, Aisling comes in disguise to the Duke's court where she waits her chance to confront her brother and end his evil.

    Fortunately, Kirion and the Duke are prepared to cause plenty of troubles for themselves. The Duke demands that Kirion charm multiple women to fall for him--and then discards them. It's bad enough when the women are poor or foreign, but when he starts seducing the daughters of the great nobles, their reaction requires the use of more of Kirion's magic. Over time, both the Duke and Kirion come to wonder whether the bargain that holds them together might be more costly than it is worth.

    Set in Andre Norton's Witch World universe, THE DUKE'S BALLAD remains loyal to this tradition--and the traditional emnity of Escarp's surrounding nations with their hatred of any holding the old blood and witch powers.

    Author Andre Norton (see more reviews of novels by Norton) is a longtime SF master. Her Witch World series remains among the most popular and best of the SF from the 1960s and 1970s. Norton now teams with Lyn McConchie to extend this franchise.

    THE DUKE'S BALLAD certainly does not live up to the standards set in the best of Norton's Witch World series (in my opinion these are the original Witch World and the Three Against Witch World trilogy), but it is not the worst either. If readers can outlast a relatively slow start--with characters who tend to repeat themselves, they are treated to a solid fantasy in a fascinating world. Sure it's basic good vs. evil stuff, but Norton/McConchie do introduce some ambivalence and at least hint at the horrors of siege and warfare.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 2/28/05

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