Curt Benjamin,
The Prince of Shadows
(DAW, 2001)

Just when you think you've seen it all in the world of fantasy literature, something new and different comes along. Such a book is The Prince of Shadows, the first volume in Curt Benjamin's Seven Brothers saga.

Llesho has been a slave since he was 7, when the Harn overran the Thebin capitol of Kangol, murdering his parents the king and queen and selling Llesho and his six older brothers into slavery.

Llesho is trained to be a pearl diver on Lord Chiu's Pearl Island, and a few years after his arrival on the inescapable island, he is joined by Lloth, the royal adviser. Lloth takes the boy under his wing, teaching him to read and about strategy. When Llesho is 16, Lloth's departing spirit charges Llesho with a mission -- to find his six brothers and retake their home. Llesho has no idea how he is to do this and, in fact, he nearly drowns following his encounter with the spirit, making him incapable of diving.

He decides to petition to train as a gladiator, and to his relief, receives the required permission. He hopes that his training will help him earn both a way off the island and his freedom. At first, he is not very comfortable around the other gladiators, and the overseer, Master Markko is particularly frightening. But he soon gains the respect and friendship of Jaks, the master of arms, and Master Den, the laundryman who also leads the meditative exercises and forms and teaches hand-to-hand combat.

Llesho realizes that there is more to Jaks and Den than he thought at first, and that they know the same about him. Markko becomes an even more ominous figure, and when he reveals his true colors, Llesho fears for his life.

Finally, he goes to his first tournament, which turns out to be his last. His ownership is transferred to the governor and his wife, a strange and powerful woman. He meets Habiba, the lady's witch, and Habiba's daughter Kaydu, as well as finding two of his friends from the island ensconced on the estate. But the happiness is short-lived. Suddenly, he is fleeing for his life with companions old and new, with Markko in pursuit, and it is here that his quest also begins.

Benjamin draws on the myths, legends and traditions of the East to spin his tale of love, honor, treachery and loyalty. The narrative is fast-paced and exciting, and Benjamin writes with elegant simplicity. Not a word is wasted or extraneous, and the 500 pages just fly by. Benjamin paints vivid images and scenes that seem real enough to touch. His characterizations are wonder, depicting characters which are larger than life, yet believable and appealing. The characters combine with the masterful storytelling to create a truly memorable story.

The Prince of Shadows may seem daunting to readers afraid to try epics, but Llesho's story is immediately engaging and absorbing. It's great start to what promises to be a grand series.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 26 October 2002

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