Muzzy magicking mars SFWA vice-president McGarry's first, ambitious foray into Faerie. Inhabitants of her island world, Eiden Myr, are illiterate but protected from storm and disease by the Ennead, nine powerful mages hidden in the bowels of the enigmatic Holding and supported by lesser magic makers functioning in "triads." The thinking wordsmiths shape spells, while the feeling binders wordlessly sign them into being and the sensing illuminators elaborately decorate the vellums the binders strip from the flesh of sheep and goats. When Liath, daughter of a humble publican, petitions the Ennead for help in regaining her gift of the magelight, they set her a daunting task: to ensnare Torrin, the elusive Darkmage unsettling the realm by teaching its children to read and think for themselves, and return him to the Holding for "coring and sealing." Before the resolution of Liath's quest, her world is predictably turned inside out, and she falls in overwrought love with the man she's supposed to hate. McGarry's profusion of characters are difficult to untangle even with the scantily glossed name and word lists supplied. Dangling threads of plot and occasional chatty but jarring colloquialisms tend to obscure her message, that the loss of literacy has made magecraft (read: modern technology?) a craft of evil and pain. Literary promise sparks fitfully, but the author's hard-hammered insistence on her chief innovation, the triadic structure of her fictional society, makes for tough slogging. (Aug. 29)
Forecast:Blurbs from Robert Jordan and Gene Wolfe, plus the author's insider SF connections, will ensure more than usual attention for this first novel.