As evidenced by masters such as Patricia McKillip, often worthy and original fantasies slip out of print under the wave of Tolkien ripoffs. Sylvia Engdahl's books are in that class, and thank God Meisha Merlin is reprinting them! May they keep on doing so.
The main character is Noren, a guy who knows that the world is unjust. The Scholars and Technicians are the only people allowed to use machinery and metals, and enter the City (which, of course, he also craves to enter). They also control the knowledge meted out to the lower caste systems, into which you are born and can never hope to rise from.
The High Law is why these rules are there, but a prophecy promises that knowledge and machinery will be accessible to everyone, not just the Scholars. Noren, however, doesn't care about High Law or the Prophecy, believing that High Law is simply oppression and the Prophecy untrue. But freeing his people to equality will be a strange and hard task...
Once again, Engdahl creates a believable and thought-provoking piece of SF/fantasy that doesn't fall to the usual ray-guns-or-dragons cliches. The questions raised about freedom in this book kept making me pause in the middle of a page, thinking deeply about what was being shown in the story. For fans of action: There isn't much. For fans of originality/intelligence: There's plenty.
Noren, the idealistic rebel, is a particularly endearing character. Like the characters in "Enchantress from the Stars" he is complex and multifaceted, and grows as characters should through his trials. His relentless search for truth is fascinating to the reader, and there are entire pages where you may forget you are reading a story.
Faith, truth, and knowledge are the cornerstones of this book, in my eyes. Yet they are not heavy-handed in their presentation, rather they are subtlely woven into the plot. Engdahl's writing style is, if possible, even more captivating than in "Enchantress," descriptive without getting too overwordy.
I'm not certain if this will appeal to the younger readers of "Enchantress," as this has topics in it that may bore them. (If your kids have read Tolkien, though, they will like this). I recommend it to fans of Tolkien, Lewis, McKillip, and readers of "Enchantress" who can appreciate this multilayered tale.