Simon Brown,
Keys of Power #1:

(DAW, 2003)

The basic premise of Simon Brown's Inheritance, Book One of Keys of Power, isn't anything startlingly original, yet this proves to be a most absorbing novel with very well-defined and inherently likable characters. Political intrigue, betrayal, cold-blooded murder and just the right touch of magic makes the kingdom of Grinda Lear an exceedingly interesting and complex fantasy realm.

It was Queen Usharna who, as a young monarch, kept the kingdom together as it faced military attacks from outside and treachery from within -- by the queen's own second husband, in fact. Grenda Lear has been at peace for many years now, but its social fabric is already poised to unravel upon the death of the aging and increasingly frail queen. The nobility, as represented by the Twenty Houses, is particularly intent to restore its prestige and power, still seething over the fact that Usharna took a commoner for her third and final husband. This commoner whom the nobility hold in such disdain, however, was none other than General Elynd Chisal, the man primarily responsible for saving the kingdom from defeat in the Slaver War. It is Lynan, the fourth child of Queen Usharna and son of the late General Chisal, who stands at the forefront of this exceedingly interesting novel.

In most cultures, the son of a nation's military hero would be held in high esteem; the same cannot be said of Grenda Lear. Prince Lynan has lived a life of isolation, estranged from his mother the queen, looked down upon by his royal half-brothers and half-sister, and given none of the courtly duties befitting a prince. As a son of the queen, however, Lynan is a prince of the realm and does receive, according to tradition, one of the four keys of power from Usharna upon her death. Just as the new king, his half-brother Berayma, begins to take Lynan and his attendant duties seriously, disaster strikes the castle in the form of murder most foul. Suddenly, Lynan finds himself fleeing for his life, as a most cancerous and ugly conspiracy inside the halls of utmost power complete step one of a nefarious power-grabbing plot and frame the "commoner" prince for regicide.

Lynan is accompanied in flight by Kumul, suddenly ex-captain of the palace guard; Ager, a crookback soldier who served under Lynan's father in the Slaver War; and a young female student of magic named Jenrosa (who was in the wrong place at the wrong time). The young prince also has the Key of Union, although he does not yet know how to tap into whatever powers it might possess. Kumul and Ager lead the group on a dangerous journey to a distant land where Lynan can find safety and, quite possibly, raise an army of his own. As the group braves the dangers of the passage and deals with a series of attacks from government-appointed pursuers, Lynan matures a great deal and eventually vows to return to Grenda Lear and reclaim his royal heritage.

Inheritance truly engages the fantasy enthusiast's mind and love for the genre, as the author executes a number of critical sub-plots simultaneously and sets the stage for a truly epic saga. Lynan is in some ways a classic underdog, and he comes across as very human thanks to his virtuous nature and his youthful capacity for saying and doing dumb things from time to time. The action is suspenseful and fraught with both human and much more mysterious dangers (such as an encounter with Silona, the wood vampire who haunts the dark forest), and the magic that weaves its way into the storyline is subtle enough to make a maximum impact on an already thrilling story. Humor works its way into the easy camaraderie of the gang of heroes, but at the same time the story has its dark side. Some horrible acts are committed in these pages, and the blood that is shed leaves its mark on the reader.

I am definitely a new fan of Simon Brown. Inheritance engaged my mind, swept me up in its atmosphere of intrigue, injustice, heroism and adventure, and introduced me to a set of characters I am more than anxious to meet again in succeeding entries in the Keys of Power series (which is currently projected to be a trilogy).

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 15 May 2004

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