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    Review of THE HIDDEN STARS by Madeline Howard (see her website)


    Eos, October, 2004

    The Empress Ouriana has declared herself a goddess and is intent on conquering the entire world. Those who oppose her have battled for decades, yet have only defeat and dispair to show for their fighting. But a prophesy holds hope. Someone from the Empress's own bloodline is supposed to bring about her defeat. And Ouriana's sister has a baby daughter. Keeping that daughter alive becomes one of the most important goals in the world. But the wizard who sets out with the baby girl is lost in a battle with Ouriana's priests--and nothing more is heard from the girl.

    As Ouriana continues her conquest, years pass. The Empress's conquests move closer and closer to the core areas of the alliance that opposes her. If the girl survived, she would be a young adult now, and they need her help. A small group including a half-elf prince, the most powerful wizard left to the side of light, and the wizard's daughter set off to follow up rumors that a princess in a distant kingdom might not be who she pretends--might actually be the child foretold in prophesy.

    Author Madeline Howard delivers a well written and interesting debut novel. The world she creates--one filled with monsters frozen in the deeps, a newly lowered moon that creates earthquakes as it circles, and of powerful magic, will be familiar to fantasy readers while containing creative elements that are all her own.

    The story concentrates on the journey of Sinderian, wizard's daughter, and the Prince Ruan, but occasionally switches to the point of view of one of Ouriana's sons or to that of the princess Winloki herself. I didn't find the characters quite as well developed or interesting as the world and magical system, however. Winloki is whiny and impulsive, and Sinderian is a bit whiny herself. While cardboard characters are a staple of fantasy (did we really get to know Aragorn, after all), it would have been nice if these central characters were more fully defined and sympathetic.

    THE HIDDEN STARS isn't perfect, but it makes for engaging reading. I was reading it on the train and nearly missed my exit.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/30/05

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