The Briar King
opens Greg Keyes' four-volume fantasy sequence "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone". Besides being highly readable, the novel offers an intriguingly tangled plot and back-story that rises well above the black-and-white simplicities of commercial fantasy.
A prelude of magical battle and hard-won victory over hated slave masters strikes a note of doom as it's suggested that the coming Golden Age is already poisoned by misuse of magic at its founding. Next, a much later historian's note records that "In the year 2,223 E, the age of Everon came to an abrupt and terrible end." This is the year in which the main narrative begins.
It's a time of late-medieval kingdoms, with credible political tension and devious diplomacy. In the kingdom of Crotheny, something is very wrong in the royal forest--signalled by the forest warden's sighting of a "greffyn". Both like and unlike the griffin of myth, this creature's mere presence poisons streams with a deadly contamination that lingers and can be passed on by touch.
Something is rotten in the Church, too, where a gifted novice monk finds himself translating ancient, unspeakable texts that should have been left in decent obscurity. Other kinds of wrongness fester at court, with shifting tensions among the mostly likeable members of a dysfunctional royal family, increasing political pressure from outside and genuinely shocking treason within. When a knight of the Queen's most trusted personal guard abruptly tries to kill her, there seems to be no safety anywhere. Not even in the well-defended "coven" or convent to which the youngest, most wilful princess is despatched to be trained as an assassin-nun.
As a variety of neatly-drawn characters pursue personal feuds, vendettas, love affairs, comic pratfalls, escape plans and paths to advancement, there are repeated hints that the land itself--defiled by sinister rituals of desecration--is dying. The greffyn and the appalling Briar King of prophecy seem to be symptoms rather than the real disease.
The Briar King is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping fantasy sequence. --David Langford
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A wonderful tale . . . It crackles with suspense and excitement from start to finish."--TERRY BROOKS "STARTS OFF WITH A BANG, spinning a snare of terse imagery and compelling characters that grips tightly and never lets up. . . .A graceful, artful tale from a master storyteller."--ELIZABETH HAYDON Bestselling author of "Prophecy: Child of Earth ""THE CHARACTERS IN "THE BRIAR KING" ABSOLUTELY BRIM WITH LIFE. . . . Keyes hooked me from the first page and I'll now be eagerly anticipating sitting down with each future volume of The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series."--CHARLES DELINT Award-winning author of "Forests of the Heart "and "The Onion Girl ""A THRILL RIDE TO THE END, WITH PLENTY OF TREACHERY, REVELATION, AND EVEN A FEW BOMBSHELL SURPRISES."--"Monroe News-Star "(LA)