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The Lightstone, book one of the Ea Cycle, by David Zindell

Review by Mike

High fantasy.

On the island continent of Ea it is late in the Age of the Dragon. It is a dark time of chaos, war, and the dashed dreams of long-lost ages. Once again Morjin, the fallen angel, is seeking the Lightstone. With it he will eventually find a way to free Angra Mainyu, the dark archangel imprisoned for a million years.

But strangely, it is also a time of light as the earth and sun once again enter the Golden Band. A champion has been born who will seek the Lightstone so that the prophesy of a new and glorious age can be fulfilled. His name is Valashu Elahad, the seventh son of the King of Mesh.

Zindell is originally an SF writer, and that shows a bit in his approach to the world's set up. Even though the story is set on a small continent, there are references to other planets and the people of Ea descends from a "Star People," who were sent to earth by the immortal beings Elijin and Galadin. They carried the Lightstone with them, a golden cup that bears a strong resemblance to the Holy Grail. It's full power can only be awakened by a Maitreya, born every thousand year and something of a Messiah. Nevertheless the dark lord Morjin is trying to use the Lightstone for his own ends. His plots have lead to many wars on Ea, and the Lightstone has had more than one owner throughout the millennia. As we enter the scene it has been lost for 3000 years, and many people believe it to be destroyed. But we know better...

The story is told from the POV of Valashu, a young man who has spent most of his life in safety as a younger son of the ruling house in a small kingdom in the mountains. However, when the call to join the quest for the Lightstone reaches him all that will change. He sets out with the wise old Master Juwain and his somewhat cowardly and very girl-crazy friend Maram. Along the way several other people join their group, but the number of characters you have to remember stays on a reasonable level. There is a tendency that the good characters are all very nice and the baddies all very evil, but they are well enough drawn to keep you reading.

In many ways the plot is the standard fantasy plot 1A - young hero travelling all over the known world in search for a powerful relic to stop evil overlord from casting the world into darkness. We have all seen that before from other authors, from Tolkien to Eddings. Most of the plot twists are preceded by clues so you can figure out what is going to happen. Now that must mean that I found it incredibly boring, right? Actually, not at all. There are a number of unknown aspects that are gradually revealed to keep your curiosity alive, and the pacing is excellent. An 800 page book will inevitably contain slow moments, but they are nicely interspersed with action scenes.

The prose is rich, with thorough descriptions of the towns and countryside our heroes travel through. The only thing Zindell avoids becoming too graphic about is the violence. Sure, there are cut off limbs and stuff, but I've certainly seen worse. There is also a lot of poetry, too an extent that reminds me of Tolkien.

As I've mentioned above, this may not be the most creative new fantasy series, but the rich historical background and well-paced plot made me enjoy it all the way through. Since it is the first book in a series I will keep the grade down - 3.5 amulets.

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