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    Review of TRACING THE SHADOW by Sarah Ash (see her website)


    Spectra, January 2008

    The inquisitors have nearly eliminated the magi, but in doing so, they've created powerful enemies and paid a high price. Apprentice alchymist Rieuk is tempted by the spirits of the void, then blackmailed into becoming an agent for the unregulated magi. Jagu loses his friend to a soul stealer, and vows to join the fight against the magi--setting aside both his musical talent and swearing a vow of celibacy. Klervie, daughter of an alchymist, becomes homeless and orphaned when the inquisition sweeps up her father--but manages to keep a magical book containing a spirit with goals of its own. Each, seeking justice, salvation for their friends, or simple survival, becomes caught up in a greater adventure--an adventure they can see only a part of, and that sets them at odds with one another.

    Klervie (later Celestine) is only six at the beginning of the story, and a large part of the novel consists of her growing up in a convent where she learns to sing. Gifted with exceptional talent by the spirit within her book, Celestine eventually is invited to the capital where she works with, and falls in love with, the nation's foremost composer. With this story serving as the main narrative thread, the wars, assassinations and political intrigues become undertones, largely hidden, but giving the novel structure.

    Author Sara Ash does an intriguing job making Rieuk and Celestine both sympathetic. Although Rieuk is forced to commit horrible crimes, he does so under duress, and honestly tries to prevent the worst from happening (unfortunately, he's often frustrated in these attempts). Ash hints at some coming problems between Celestine and the spirit within her book--the spirit wants to protect Celestine, but she has her own agenda, an agenda that might not be compatible with Celestine's ambitions. Jagu remains a bit of an enigma, in love with Celestine, capable but not really passionate about his music, and uncertain about his calling as a soldier and warrior of the faith.

    A lot of TRACING THE SHADOW reads like an introduction, setting up characters that will be fully developed in later volumes. Some of the emotions (Celestine's great love for Henri, Rieuk's passion for Imri) seem manipulated rather than justified by the events. Still, after a somewhat rough beginning, I found myself hooked on the story and compelled to see the adventure through.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 5/27/08

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