cover image Wit'ch War: Book Three of the Banned and the Banished

Wit'ch War: Book Three of the Banned and the Banished

James Clemens. Del Rey Books, $15 (560pp) ISBN 978-0-345-41709-1

This third, stout volume recounts the dramatic climax of the quest for the Blood Diary, which holds the secret magic of the evil Black Heart. Three groups of do-gooding warriors are trying to track down the diary: Elena, the wit'ch, and her one-armed companion, Er'ril; Elena's Aunt Mycelle (a reformed shape-changer) and her motley crew; and the pirate Kast the Bloodrider and his beloved Sy-wen. Clemens tediously details each group's long journey, which concludes in a final confrontation on the island of A'loa Glen. There, the adventurers must confront the evil mage Shorkan (who happens to be Er'ril's brother). No tyro, Clemens does intelligent things with Elena and her brother, Joach, as they fight not only their enemies but also the dangers of their magical powers. He writes suggestively about shape-changing, and the final battle is so well constructed that it demands to be read at one sitting. But Clemens's decision to reveal only toward the end that the Blood Diary does not in fact hold the real key to the power of the Black Heart (thereby invalidating the purpose of the quest) produces terrific disappointment. (It does, however, suggest that he'll write at least one more novel in this series.) Although the scenario revolves around strong women and an abundantly detailed world, such a plot is hardly a novelty in contemporary fantasy fiction. Weakly executed, this book won't compel the attention of more discriminating readers. (July)