cover image Isle of Woman

Isle of Woman

Piers Anthony. Tor Books, $23.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85564-2

Anthony (the Xanth series) overreaches with this ambitious but clumsy pro-environmental ``message'' novel. Interconnected vignettes trace the progress of a man and a woman, Blaze and Ember, through repeated reincarnations at different points in humanity's development. With settings as diverse as prehistoric Africa, T'ang Dynasty China, medieval Lithuania and a dystopian near-future America, Anthony's showcases little-known societies and events as he attempts to demonstrate how ``the traits and abilities that enabled man to survive and prosper in the past are now about to drive him into disaster.'' The uninspired historical reconstructions sometimes exhibit an irritating patriarchal bias; stilted prose features awkward explanations, comically stiff dialogue and adolescent, voyeuristic treatment of sex. Failing as compelling historical fiction, this work, with its preponderance of factual material, is likely to disappoint Anthony's loyal fantasy fans as well. (Sept.)