Copyright 2013 by Paula S. Jordan
Leona Wisoker just keeps getting better. In Fires of the Desert, the fourth book in her extraordinary series, Children of the Desert, both the multi-faceted plot and the growing circle of brilliantly conceived characters continue to unfold, providing insights of ever deeper and more fascinating complexity.
When Lady Alyea Peysimun accepted the King’s assignment to take responsibility for the abandoned Scratha family fortress deep in the desert, then volunteered to undergo the blood trials required to become a desert lord she set out on a path that would demand intelligence, strength, and every skill she had, plus many she had never heard of. (Book I Secrets of the Sands, reviewed here)
Among the issues:
1: Ancient antipathy between the acerbically religious north, Alyea’s native region, and the free-wheeling southern desert where her responsibilities lie.
2: Mysterious presences in many of the country’s hidden places. Are they benefactors to humans? Or monsters? Few know and none will say.
3: The Capitol, a blend of north and south whose recent violent history still casts a deadly pall. And the new king, Oruen, bright and well-meaning, but with too little grasp of the tensions in his realm.
Those tensions only intensify as Alyea struggles to grow into her new abilities under the tutelage of Deiq of Stass, a mentor of many powers and convoluted loyalties. But she can be headstrong, and it is only through misstep and near disaster that she learns how poorly her experience at court has prepared her for the desert’s challenges. And for the dangerous road ahead. (Book 2: Guardians of the Desert, reviewed here.)
Book 3 continues the stories of other fascinating characters, each in hir own way moving ever more deeply into the mystery that envelopes them all: Ellemoa, called a witch, clinging to a past that has betrayed her. Kolan, once a lover, then a priest, now questioning the greatest passions of his life. Tank, a young mercenary, raised to serve as bait in a trap that he still struggles to escape. And the connecting link, Idiseo, the most powerful and deeply conflicted of the four. (Bells of the Kingdom, reviewed here)
And now: Fires of the Desert.
As Book 4 begins, Alyea, in darkness, attempts to light a candle by the force of her will. When she succeeds, Deiq takes the lesson a step further. “A candle is small,” he says. “It doesn’t take much effort. Don’t mistake a bonfire for a candle.”
But amid a welter of contentious factions and self-serving alliances–at court, along trade routes, in great houses and low–Alyea’s unexpected rise as a new desert lord has foiled schemes and disrupted conspiracies both ancient and new-born.
Dangerous kindling, to be sure, but nothing really new. In this world of beauty and potential, with its vast reservoirs of violence, personal growth is equal parts learning and managing to survive.
When an old enemy recaptures Alyea, Deiq spirits her away and returns for bloody vengeance, only to fall into a second, deadlier trap hidden within the first.
When Alyea follows Deiq’s abductors into the desert, she finds that he has already been rescued … by a dubious friend with cynical plans of his own. One who, as Deiq put it, “… has ten different plans for every situation, and anything you do plays into one of them.” The life-changing pact they make in his fortress will have its consequences.
As could every complication of their world … the desert families’ plots and pride, the cold fury of the northern priests, the power and greed of business and shipping and vice collaboratives, the intrigues at court, the frustrations of the discounted, overlooked poor. And most of all the rare, hidden-away, perilous dealings with the mysterious others. Each is a potential spark in a bonfire world just waiting to ignite.
Can Alyea contain the flames? Can Deiq? Should they? Or should some of those fires be allowed to burn?
As the two of them wend their way through that deadly tangle, with the support of Lord Eredion Sessin at court, each finds hirself evolving, both personally and in relation to the others, in ways that they never would have imagined.
Alyea, no longer the gifted but ignorant young courtier ambitious for power, is maturing into a responsible head of her newly established desert Family and a personage with growing skills at court. But her greatest concern is solving the enigma and the problem of Deiq, her mentor and friend.
Deiq, long accustomed to a superior role in life and given to uncontrollable rages when he is challenged, now finds himself drawn to Alyea in ways he has rarely experienced. At the same time, he teeters on the edge of unimaginable violence as her growing confidence brings them ever closer to his flash point.
Despite Eredion’s exhaustion from long service as Sessin family liaison to the king and his efforts to restore the city’s sanity after years of misrule, he is drawn ever more deeply into issues surrounding his old associate Deiq, and Alyea, the promising new desert lord.
Where does it all lead? Ms Wisoker has only hints for us now, but enough of those to tell us clearly that this story is far from done.
That, and one thing more … don’t ever call it love.
Bells of the Kingdom and all books of the Children of the Desert series are available from a variety of sources, including Mercury Retrograde Press, highly regarded publishers of “fantasy, science fiction, and interstitial works.” Learn more at mercuryretrogradepress.com.