cover image Summer King, Winter Fool

Summer King, Winter Fool

Lisa Goldstein. Tor Books, $20.95 (287pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85632-8

This classy fantasy combines an original take on religion with a realistic view of political intrigue to create an intellectually solid, if not viscerally gripping, adventure. Valemar, a minor courtier who is loyal to the bastard King Gobro, becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue and finds himself exiled to the rural fishing community of Tobol An, home of the library where ancient knowledge about the kingdom is watched over by the beautiful librarian Taja. Once Valemar returns home, Taja receives a magical intuition and discovers documents that show that Valemar is really the legitimate heir to the throne. She manages to reach Valemar with the news, but he decides to bide his time; when Gobro's sister, Callia, installed on the throne after Gobro's demise, starts a war, Valemar joins her in battle. He spends the rest of his time learning how to be a good leader, why the winter is endless, what the gods have been up to and where his heart really lies. Taja also learns the importance of being true to herself and her burgeoning magic. Unlike the characters in Goldstein's earlier work ( Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon ), who seemed freed from convention by the magic in their real-world setting, the characters here are strangely constrained by their fanciful environment. Yet the poetic interplay and philosophical intricacies have their own beauty, and eventually both the characters and the story thaw into something noble and rich. (May)