by Gill Alderman (HarperCollins Voyager, £6.99, 389 pages, paperback; published 7 June 1999.)
There are series where it is possible to plunge in at any book and get something interesting out by the end. There are others where the newcomer wallows stupidly trying to make sense of what is going on. Gill Alderman's Lilith's Castle is definitely in that category. The publisher chose to give this book an anonymous stand-alone cover and blurb, failing to indicate in any way that this might be the end volume of a continuing story. That is a mistake, since anyone who bought this book cold would likely be as bemused by the plot as I was, and probably more pissed off, having shelled out good money for the title.
That's not to say that there isn't some good fantasy writing here: there is, but it is buried in a story that rambles along at a slow walking pace, stepping out for interesting sidelines in characters or incidents along the way. There is very little sense of it rising to a climax, as even the final chapters continue at the same stately, measured pace. As a result, it is difficult to feel any involvement with the characters, and that detachment leads quite naturally to disinterest.
The storyline follows the adventures of Gry, a plainswoman who teams up with the Red Horse, chief stallion of the Ima tribe's horse herd, and goes off on a journey to return to her dead father his dagger, which was left out of the funeral offerings. The trip takes her across the plains and into the company of gypsy witches, dead shamans, spirits, silver dwarves, blonde heroes and finally to the Underworld, there to meet the King and Queen of Hell themselves. Overlaid onto Gry's story are the continuing machinations of magicians Guy Parados and Koschei, souls mysteriously transposed (Koschei's into Parados' own body, while Guy finds himself trapped in the Red Horse). The two meet and come together in Hell, which confusingly turns into a computer game on a machine operated by Parados' son back on Earth, while Koschei-inside-Parados looks on. I'm sure it all makes sense if you read the whole series, but as the publisher chooses not to even mention any prior volumes, that's pretty difficult to accomplish.
Gill Alderman writes well, but on the strength of this volume at least, lacks any real sense of drama, of story-telling that can carry the reader along with its narrative drive. Strictly for completist readers of the early volumes, this one.
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© John D Owen 6 May 2000