The Barnes & Noble Review
Religious ideologies clash in Victoria Strauss' fantasy The Burning Land, a profoundly moving and timely novel that examines issues of faith, prejudice, and the senseless violence associated with fanatical religious and political leaders.
After nearly 80 years of atheistic control, the kingdom of Arsace has been reclaimed by its rightful rulers. The Âratists, followers of the predominant religion of the continent of Galea, have begun rebuilding their cities and restoring their temples. But the reconstruction process is taking more time -- and more money -- than the king ever expected. To make matters worse, Dreamers (Âratist seers) have had visions of renegade Shapers (sorcerers that can transform inanimate matter) far across the Burning Land, a vast desert sacred to Âratists, who believe that Ârata lies sleeping there. Shaping is a pillar of Âratist belief and is considered a gift of the god. But to shape without the appropriate ritual -- which includes the use of manita, a drug that tethers shaping ability -- is considered heresy.
Gyalo, a dedicated Shaper, is chosen to lead an expedition across the desert to find the exiles and return them safely to Arsace. But after a mysterious desert storm kills most of the group, Gyalo and a few others are left with little water and no food. Without any manita and fated to die if he doesn't use his now-untethered shaping abilities to create sustenance, Gyalo is faced with a life-altering decision: break his vows to his god or let himself and other innocents die of starvation.
In this riveting tale filled with magic, intrigue, and treachery, Strauss has succeeded in writing a powerful fantasy novel that is both entertaining and thought provoking. Literary manna.
Paul Goat Allen
Two theocratic societies clash in this solid if predictable fantasy from Strauss (The Arm of the Stone). Overthrown decades ago by an egalitarian revolution that quickly evolved into a totalitarian state, the Brethren of the Way of Arata have regained power in the largest of the seven nations of Galea. The Brethren, incarnate Sons and Daughters of the First Messenger who revealed the Way of Arata 12 centuries earlier, are aided by those gifted with the powers of Dreaming (astral projection) and of Shaping (the ability to transform inanimate material). Vowed Aratist and Shaper Gyalo travels south to investigate a rumored community of "lost" Aratists existing in the harsh and holy Burning Land. If Gyalo survives his perilous journey, he will discover an enclave called Refuge. The people of Refuge, guided by the revelations of their first leader, believe they are the last remnants of humanity. Gyalo's mere existence either challenges their faith or fulfills it. Axane, a daughter of Refuge's elected leader who has hidden her ability to Dream, dreams of Gyalo and his expedition. She recognizes her world is not as she has been taught. With both sides believing the other is blasphemous and heretical, disaster looms. The novel's interesting exploration of a messiah-like character's struggle with his faith outweighs the more melodramatic role of Axane, who's a standard fantasy heroine, strong yet vulnerable, obedient yet rebellious. In the end the author lays a firm foundation for an eventual sequel. (On sale Jan. 20) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
With peace finally reigning in embattled Arsace, the religion of Arata, the sleeping god, is practiced openly again. After years of repression, the Aratists are restoring their temples and reinstating their hegemony over society. Aratist monk Gyalo Amdo Sanchen is called by the head of the Aratist sect to lead an expedition into the Burning Land, a desert where Aratists believe that their god sleeps, to find a group of people expelled in the years of repression and civil unrest. These lost Aratists have among them unbound Shapers, people with the ability to change the shape of reality, to bring water from the desert and food from the air. Shapers in the precincts of the Aratists are bound, as is Gyalo, by a drug to keep their abilities in check. The dangerous unbound Shapers must be found and brought back. On the far side of the Burning Lands, Axane lives in the community of Refuge. Her group of exiles has forgotten the society from which they came, believing it destroyed. But Axane has a secret: She alone is an unbound dreamer, able to dream beyond the precincts of her small world. She knows of Arsace's existence but cannot divulge her knowledge, for just as unbound shaping is prohibited in Arsace, unbound dreaming is prohibited in Refuge. These two unlikely people come together in a war of ideologies that nearly destroys them both but ultimately brings them together. Fluidly written, with in-depth characterization and superb world building, this book comes to a satisfying ending that is open enough to leave a sequel a real possibility. For those who like sword and sorcery, theological debate, and strong female characters, this work will have strong, broad appeal. VOYA Codes 4Q 3P J S(Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Eos/HarperCollins, 479p., Ages 12 to 18.
The Empire of Arsace has reconquered the capital city of Ninvaser and, along with it, the First Temple of the God. Problems arise, however, as renegade Shapers-sorcerers-create friction between the secular and the religious elements in the City, leaving it up to a young Shaper named Gyalo to seek out and reconcile the renegades before the world is destroyed. The author of The Garden of the Stone and The Arm of the Stone presents a unique fantasy world filled with complex intrigues and well-developed characters. For most fantasy collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
The Burning Land
The rush of water caught Gyalo full in the chest. It felt completely real; he gasped and leaped aside before he could stop himself, brushing at his face and clothes. Even as he did, he understood the trick, and straightened up again, angry at himself for being taken in.
He thought he could see the one who had done it: a skinny postulant with the yellow headband of a trainee Shaper, leaning over the back of a passing parade cart and grinning in Gyalo's direction. Packed in around him, other trainees tossed blessings to the crowd: a shower of spangles,streamers of transparent gauze, a burst of rainbow brilliance. These were not true shapings, which changed and shifted matter and properly could be performed only in the context of Âratist ceremony, but illusions, substanceless manipulations of light and air: a symbolic reminder of the sacred power bestowed by the god on humankind before time began.They vanished even as the spectators laughed and snatched at them.
The water had not been entirely illusory, though. Gyalo could feel dampness on his cheeks, and the fine golden silk of his Shaper stole was spotted with wet. Under other circumstances he might have seen the humor in it -- the people nearby clearly did, though in deference to his Shaperhood they hid their smiles behind their hands -- but he had spent time and care dressing himself, and so he was not amused.
"Here, Brother." One of the bystanders, a young Arsacian woman, offered him her stole. "For your face."
She spoke shyly, but laughter twitched the corners of her mouth. Well, Gyalo thought, it was funny. Ruefully, he smiled at her and took the stole.
"Thanks for your charity, lady," he said, giving it back into her hands. "Hopefully I can manage to keep dry the rest of the way."
She giggled. "Great is Ârata,"she said, making the god's sign. "Great is his Way."
"Go in light."
Gyalo moved on. To his left the spectators were a mass of packed bodies and laughing faces; to his right the procession trundled along, an exuberant juggernaut of color, noise, and smell: ox-drawn parade carts festooned with ribbons dyed in the god's colors; groups of Forceless monks on foot, beating drums and blowing kanshas, great trumpets that curved over the shoulder and made a sound like a mythic beast dying in agony; drays bearing huge wood-and-gilt statues of Ârata in his four guises of World Creator, Primal Warrior, Eon Sleeper, and Risen Judge; litters with smaller images of some of Ârata's more powerful Aspects -- Dâdarshi, Patron of luck, Skambys, Patron of war and weather, Hatâspa, Patron of fire and weaponry, Tane, Patron of crops and the moon -- carried by hymn-singing devotee-priests. Between these groups walked postulants with rods of burning incense, and more monks shouting out rhythmically: "Wake, O Ârata, wake. Wake and deliver your children from exile."
Like the blessings, the cacophony was symbolic: No one imagined that all this noise could actually rouse the god. It was meant for the human spectators, to remind them of the waiting that was their lot, that had been the lot of every living creature since Ârata first lay down to sleep. It echoed deafeningly back from the high blood granite walls that enclosed the avenue; Gyalo's ears rang from it, and his eyes burned from incense smoke. Another day he might have ducked through one of the archways that gave access to the tangled side streets, in search of a less crowded way to go. But though he had long known Baushpar's plan by heart, he had never actually set foot in the holy city until six months earlier, and the map in his head did not always guide him properly. He could not risk, today of all days, getting lost.
Which reminded him, with unwelcome sharpness, that he was nervous.
The avenue terminated upon a vast walled square paved in russet ironstone, at whose center rose the monumental bulk of the First Temple of Ârata. The Temple's original core had been erected more than eleven centuries before, but it had been expanded many times since then, in a score or more of different styles and motifs lent harmony by the yellow honey granite of which the whole was made. Images and carvings covered every inch of the huge façade, worn to varying degrees of featurelessness by time and weather, but here and there, where the construction was newer or there was protection from the elements, showing sharper and more perfect. Above it all a dozen domes reached toward the sky, like fat lotus buds about to open. Recently regilded, they reflected light even on this overcast day;when the sun shone, they were blinding.
Gyalo had been raised on tales of the First Temple's magnificence, and it justi fied the stories in every respect, even marred by decades of neglect and the more substantial depredations of the Caryaxists, who had helped themselves to floor tiles and wall inlays and anything made of metal, and scraped all the gold leaf off the image of ÂÂrata Eon Sleeper that reclined at the Temple's circular core. Still, the Temple was too huge, and -- even for the Caryaxists -- too sacred to be razed or ruined, as other temples and shrines and monasteries all over Arsace had been. It rested on the ironstone paving, a golden island atop a russet sea, as colossal and serene as the dreaming god himself.
Gyalo and the procession parted company -- the procession moving left, preparing to round the Temple, Gyalo turning right, toward the square's western side. The spectators made way for him, dipping their heads respectfully and making the sign of Ârata as he passed. Elsewhere the square was thickly populated by food vendors and offerings-sellers, but there were none here. The western wall marked the boundary of the Evening City ... The Burning Land. Copyright © by Victoria Strauss. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.