Tracing the Shadow: Book One of the Alchymist's Legacy Hardcover – 29 Jan 2008
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About the Author
Sarah Ash is the author of six fantasy novels: Children of the Serpent Gate, Lord of Snow and Shadows, Prisoner of the Iron Tower, Moths to a Flame, Songspinners, and The Lost Child. She also runs the library in a local primary school. Ash has two grown sons and lives in Beckenham, Kent, with her husband and their mad cat, Molly.
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Klervie (later Celestine) is only six at the beginning of the story, and a large part of the novel consists of her growing up in a convent where she learns to sing. Gifted with exceptional talent by the spirit within her book, Celestine eventually is invited to the capital where she works with, and falls in love with, the nation's foremost composer. With this story serving as the main narrative thread, the wars, assassinations and political intrigues become undertones, largely hidden, but giving the novel structure.
Author Sara Ash does an intriguing job making Rieuk and Celestine both sympathetic. Although Rieuk is forced to commit horrible crimes, he does so under duress, and honestly tries to prevent the worst from happening (unfortunately, he's often frustrated in these attempts). Ash hints at some coming problems between Celestine and the spirit within her book--the spirit wants to protect Celestine, but she has her own agenda, an agenda that might not be compatible with Celestine's ambitions. Jagu remains a bit of an enigma, in love with Celestine, capable but not really passionate about his music, and uncertain about his calling as a soldier and warrior of the faith.
A lot of TRACING THE SHADOW reads like an introduction, setting up characters that will be fully developed in later volumes. Some of the emotions (Celestine's great love for Henri, Rieuk's passion for Imri) seem manipulated rather than justified by the events. Still, after a somewhat rough beginning, I found myself hooked on the story and compelled to see the adventure through.
In this novel, Ruaud de Lamvaux is a Captain of Guerriers in the Francian Commanderie. He is bloody and exhausted from the final assault on the fabled citadel of Ondhessar, but he has his men raise the standard from the highest tower to show that the Commanderie is here to stay.
Lieutenant Konan finds one of the Erihirrans still alive. He asks permission to put the man out of his misery, but Ruaud stays his hand. They give the young warrior some water and he curses them for taking the fortress. Then he dies.
Konan discovers some kind of tribal marking on the corpse. Every body has the same marking on the left hand and the forehead. It appears to be the letter "A" in Old Enhirran script. Maybe it stands for Azilia, the Eternal Singer.
A trespasser enters the citadel and steals a jewel from the hand of the statue within the shrine to Saint Azilia. He is seen fleeing the shrine with the aethyr crystal and pursued by the Guerriers. But he reaches his craft and flies away from the pursuers.
Rieuk Mordiern is the apprentice of Magister Kaspar Linnaius. In his master's absence, Rieuk is cleaning the laboratory. He is intrigued by the Vox Aethyr being developed by his master and Herve de Maunoir, another achemist. He studies the quartz crystals in a tray by the device and notes a trace of resonance in the stones.
Alois Visant is the new Inquisitor for the Commanderie. He suspects the College of Thaumaturgy of being mages after learning of the flying craft of Magister Linnaius. With orders from the King, he leads a raid on the College.
Klervie is the child of Herve and Maela de Maunoir. She witnesses the escape of an aethyrial spirit from a crystal and its recapture within a book. Later she carries the book as she and her mother are turned out of their house by the Inquisition.
Jagu is a student in the Seminary of Saint Argantel. He is also a dedicated and talented organist. One day he meets Henri de Joyeuse and receives a promise of sponsorship at the conservatoire of music in Lutece.
In this story, Rieuk is soundly chastised and almost expelled for his rash experiments with the Vox Aethyr. He is away from the College retrieving new parts for the device when the Inquisition conducts its raid. He flees in the company of an Enhirran mage.
Rieuk is trained as a mage by an order in Enhirre. He learns many things and enjoys his time with mage Imri. Then he is ordered to assassinate Francian personages and begins to wonder whether he has been damned by his association with mages.
Magister Linnaius also avoids the Inquisitors. He flees to Tielen and becomes the Court Artificier for Prince Eugene. Yet he is still wanted by the Commanderie for magery; they hope to bring him to trial and then execute him by auto-de-fe.
Ruaud rescues Klervie from the streets of Lutece and persuades the Abbess of the Convent of Saint Azilia to take her into the orphanage. Upon her acceptance, Klervie is given a new name: Celestine. On her first day at the convent, she begins her training as a singer in the Skylark choir.
Ruaud also becomes the tutor and protector of the second son of the Francian king. He finds himself opposed to the intrigues of the queen and Grand Maistre Donatien of the Commanderie.
This tale brings Ruaud, Celestine and Jagu together in a secret group within the Commanderie. They defend Francia from enemies both foreign and domestic. Celestine and Jagu travel together as singer and accompanist to perform their tasks.
These adventures parallel the story in the previous trilogy, yet have very little overlap in the characters and plot. This story seems to be more interesting than the previous works, but that may be due to the familiarity of the milieu. Yet it could mean that the author has improved her writing skills.
Recommended for Ash fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of exotic magic, similar societies, and a touch of romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin