Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Golden Key

Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, Kate Elliot
Fiction, Fantasy

Through art, one can live forever.

This book, set it a vaguely Medditeranean locale named Tira Verte (I felt it most like Italy, but others have cited Spanish and Portugese references), is centered on the actions of Sario Grijalva, a member of a family of talented painters who are shunned by most of the families for having chi'patro - bastard - children in their ancestry. In fact, the animosity goes so far as to accusations of dark magics, magics which turn out to, in fact, exist.

Sario is a painter of ambition. He wants to be Lord Limner - the official ducal painter who paints treaties, which are in symbolic paintings rather than the written word. At the start of the novel, that position is held by a Serrano, a member of the family that most wants to bring the Grijalvas down. (Two other prominent Serranos are the duke's mistress and the Premia Sancta, the female head of the local religion. Because of her influence, the Grijalvas have been banned from public worship.) His biggest fear, however, is not these outside influences, but the family itself, because though they have powerful magic, they also have means of controlling those who do not bend to their wishes.

Even worse is the fact that those with the Gift - the magic - die young, often barely reaching forty. They are also sterile, a sin in the local religion based on fertility. He only has a few years in which to make his influence known... until he meets an old man of the Tz'ab, the tribe that stole and raped his ancestors. The magic Sario learns from him, coupled with the training for his Gift, is enough for his to avoid his family's control and start on a path of treachery whose effects last for centuries.

The rich detailing of this novel is particularly interesting when compared to our art history; one can easily see the parallels to our own world. And in the end, as in all good tales, it is hubris that brings Sario down, the belief that he and he alone is worthy of fame, of art, and of reverence.


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