Barrenlands

by Doranna Durgin 

     This book is a prequel to Dun Lady\’s Jess– I think by a hundred years but no idea where I got that from so could be wrong. It\’s set in the same magical world, and explains a little bit how some of the magic used later on in the Changespell books came about, but really most of the magic stuff is rather confusing and unexplained. The basic setup is this: Ehren was the closest man to the king, and in the prestigious King\’s Guard. He was sent away on an errand when the king and the rest of the Guard were set upon and killed. Ehren suspects of course, that he\’d been sent away on purpose. Returning, he finds the new young king under the thumb of a devious wizard, and the new Guard doesn\’t welcome him much either. He\’s sent off again, to find some living relatives of the old king who might be a threat to the new, but really all he wants to do is find the assassin. Meanwhile, there\’s this guy named Laine travelling with his teenage sister in a trader\’s caravan. Laine has the ability to see magic, so he protects the travellers from magic traps set along the roadway, remnants of a past war. When their paths intersect, things get interesting. Ehren realizes that Laine might lead him to one of his goals- but the connection is much more intertwined than anyone suspects at first. The younger sister almost immediately develops a crush on Ehren (nothing goes beyond flirting, but there\’s definitely romantic tension throughout the whole story). The Guard tries to teach Laine some skills so he can actually use his sword effectively. There\’s a magic ring, bandits, conspiracies against the throne, plenty of adventure, swordplay and just plain old rough travel. 

The story is just as much about the relationships between people as it is about solving the mystery of who killed the king, who created the nasty magic spells that endanger any travel, and why Laine has stressful dreams where he appears to see and experience the lives of other people (crucial to the plot). I was kind of surprised to find that one aspect of the story had to do with drug trafficking- there\’s an addictive substance that endangers the lives of magic people who use it- and smugglers getting it across boarders- reminded me that one of Durgin\’s other books also had this kind of theme. Oh, and the horses! Ehren\’s two horses are just as strong characters as any of the people. The horses were great. Name of the book comes from a wasteland that separates two of the countries in the story- impassable unless you have a magic charm as protection. The description of that place was really intriguing, I was surprised it only came up near the very end, kind of wanted more detail on that. I liked this one well enough.

Rating: 3/5                         342 pages, 1998

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