cover image The Burning City

The Burning City

Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle. Atria Books, $24.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-671-03660-7

Bestselling authors Niven and Pournelle (Footfall; The Gripping Hand; etc.) have produced yet another hefty fantasy (set in Niven's The Magic Goes Away series) sure to delight fans of sword, sorcery and male superiority. In the implausibly organized Tep's town, populated predominantly by a welfare/warrior class that steals from the Kinless artisan class and is given alms by the higher-class Lords, lives young Whandall Placehold. He is the son of a thief who was killed by the wizard Morth of Atlantis, during one of the town's many burnings, conflagrations that occur when the town's god Yangin-Atep possesses men and gives them command of fire and the rage to use it. As the god is losing his power, the fires are escalating in scope and duration, and the town is slowly turning to ashes. Whandall, who wants to grow up to be more than a short-lived thief, finds his path becoming inextricably tied to that of the wizard. When the opportunity arises, Whandall and Morth escape the town in the company of a family of Kinless ropemakers containing the inevitable beautiful, virginal, marriageable daughter. Years pass, Whandall breeds and becomes a warrior merchant, but he must return to the town of his birth in the company of Morth if his burgeoning family is to prosper. There, Whandall uses all his cunning and strength to aid the wizard in his battle against a magical nemesis from Atlantis. Fun in a formulaic kiss-or-kill fantasy kind of way, this adventure has enough swordplay, magic and unicorns to please those looking to tread the old, tired pathways again. (Mar.)