The Margarets. By Sheri S. Tepper. Eos. $26.95.
Mistress of Winter. By Giles Carwyn & Todd Fahnestock. Eos. $25.95.
These are big books in every way: heavy, long (in the 500-page range), complex, character-packed and sweeping in their themes. Neither rises above genre literature (although The Margarets tries), and neither is likely to appeal to people who are not already accustomed to immersing themselves in words and worlds like the ones of these authors. But both will be highly satisfying to existing fans.
Fans of Sheri S. Tepper will be particularly pleased, since she has not written a novel since The Companions in 2003. Tepper is one of the most elegant stylists in the fantasy/SF field – indeed, she often (as in this new book) straddles the border between heroic fantasy and science fiction. The Margarets has elements of an end-of-humanity story, large doses of traditional fantasy, and a touch of social commentary masquerading as tale-telling. The end-of-humanity aspect has to do with all the scattered worlds that hate Earth and plot the end of its race; the traditional fantasy revolves around the heroine, Margaret, who lives on Mars, is the only child of a failed Earth settlement, and has created imaginary playmates that are becoming more than imaginary; and the social commentary flows from the fact that Earth’s only viable export to far-flung worlds has turned out to be slaves. The Margarets is a vast canvas. At one point, a little girl is speaking to her sleepy grandmother, “‘It’s part of a story,’ said Falija loudly enough that my eyes snapped open. ‘It starts at the beginning, and it goes on to the end. Shall I tell it to you?’ ‘You can’t just pick out the important parts?’ I suggested sleepily. ‘No. One tells it all, or one doesn’t tell it.’” And that is a microcosmic approach to Tepper’s macrocosm here: read it all or not at all. The Margarets eventually becomes a quest tale, in which the Margaret of Mars grows up and must gather other Margarets, who will determine the ultimate fate of the human race. Told at a rather desultory pace, with plenty of time for description and character development, Tepper’s book has an old-fashioned feeling about it, as this huge tale of wonder meanders toward a near-mystical conclusion. It spans the galaxy, but is ultimately an introspective novel – surely not to all readers’ tastes, but very surely appealing to fanciers of Tepper’s style and pacing.
Mistress of Winter, sequel to Heir of Autumn, is more conventional in style and structure. Its setting is the city-state of Ohndarien, and it is a book of royalty, magic, sex, betrayal, and the battle between good and evil – a description that, for better or worse, fits many hundreds of heroic-fantasy tales. Giles Carwyn and Todd Fahnestock have a talent for creating complex stories that contain lots of plots and counterplots. Heir of Autumn focused on Brophy, who ultimately sacrificed himself to save Ohndarien and now sleeps uneasily in terrifying dreams that keep the force known as Black Emmeria at bay. In Mistress of Winter, Brophy’s concubine, the sorceress Shara, has tried for years to free him, without success. When another sorceress – the mysterious and ambitious Arefaine Morgeon – does pull Brophy from his dreaming, he returns to the world as a vicious monster, deeply corrupted by all those years in a horrifying dreamworld. Shara, demoralized and heartbroken, seeks forgetfulness in a life of pleasure – only to be drawn inexorably into a battle for the survival of Ohndarien. Of course, with more of this series to come, good cannot fully triumph over evil here, but Carwin and Fahnestock create a satisfying conclusion nevertheless – while also pointing clearly toward their next book. Perhaps in that one they will have fewer of the occasional stylistic lapses that make some passages unintentionally funny, as when a scene of intensity and strong dialogue is follows by someone saying, “We got trouble.”