A Sorcerer’s Treason
Bridget Lederle is a lonely young woman who maintains the Lake Superior lighthouse, isolated from her neighbors by the short-lived illegitimate child she bore several years ago, and haunted by flashes of the second sight. Then one night she rescues from a shipwreck a strange man named Valin Kalami, who claims to come from another world. Valin says that he has sailed across the Land of Death and Spirit to find Bridget and bring her back, for only she can save his country Isavalta. Bridget agrees to return with him, but when she arrives, she finds a much more complex situation than she imagined, as Dowager Empress Medeoan battles with her daughter-in-law Ananda over the future of the Emperor and Isavalta.
There is a whole lot that I really liked about this book. Zettel paints a vivid picture of her pseudo-Russian alternate world; she also creates a convincing system of magic that avoids the twin pitfalls of mechanical incantations and glowing white energy. She successfully mixes politics and court intrigue with an evocative sense of the otherworld, as various characters seek the aid of the powerful and dangerous beings that share the world with humans. Her antagonists are some of the best that I’ve seen in a while; none of them are simple characters, and even the truly evil ones have sympathetic motives.
That said . . . on some level that I can’t articulate, this book never clicked with me. It may be only because I read it while slowly dehydrating in a plane seat; nevertheless, while the book did interest me enough to make me read it all the way through, nothing in it ever really fired my imagination. It may just be a personal thing; certainly A Sorcerer’s Treason is quite well-written, and I would have no problem recommending it to people.
Morally, the book is more problematic. Like all fantasy novels which feature characters crossing from our world to another, A Sorcerer’s Treason has to face the question of how to treat religion. Zettel opts in favor of the other world: she mentions at one point that Bridget has never had much use for Christianity, and over the course of the novel, it’s revealed that the gods of Isavalta are real. (Someday I would like to see a novel which showed a religious character dealing with the issues of being dragged into a magical alternate world. However, it will not be today.) This worldview is not really consonant with Christianity (duh). The foreign metaphysics do make slightly less objectionable the part where one of the good characters summons and binds a demon-like creature; I still didn’t much like it. There are some morally good aspects to the book: for instance, the good characters do have to face the question of how far you can go before you become the same as your enemies. And the climax has some excellent observations about the difference between sacrificing yourself and sacrificing others, and how self-punishment can be a means to avoid doing the right thing.
Content-wise, there is not a whole lot beyond some not-too-graphic violence and one soft-focus sex scene. One could argue that since it was the bad guy sleeping around, no specific moral statements were being made–but there was still a bit more information than I really wanted. (Incidentally, I grow very weary of the authors who have to tell you just how much fun their characters are having. If they’re sleeping together, usually it’s because they want to, ergo they are having fun. Get over it.) So this book is definitely slanted towards older audiences.