Burning Land

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"After long years of oppression, the rightful rulers of Arsace have finally reclaimed the holy city of Baushpar and the First Temple of the God. At last, the desecrated temples can be rebuilt and the people's suffering redressed. But tensions between the secular and sacred worlds abound, and rumors arise of renegade Shapers - powerful mages who hold no allegiance to either the King or the Brethren, and whose magic knows no restraint." "Unbeknownst to the elders of her people, the gifted Axane has dared to dream, to see the outside world beyond ...
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Overview

"After long years of oppression, the rightful rulers of Arsace have finally reclaimed the holy city of Baushpar and the First Temple of the God. At last, the desecrated temples can be rebuilt and the people's suffering redressed. But tensions between the secular and sacred worlds abound, and rumors arise of renegade Shapers - powerful mages who hold no allegiance to either the King or the Brethren, and whose magic knows no restraint." "Unbeknownst to the elders of her people, the gifted Axane has dared to dream, to see the outside world beyond the hidden enclave of Refuge - a world the people of Refuge no longer believe exists - that has no tolerance for change and will soon break down the walls of their secret sanctuary. But Axane's dreaming is forbidden, and to warn Refuge is to doom herself." Chosen to lead an expedition to reclaim the renegade mages, Gyalo, a young Shaper, must journey across the mystic Burning Land in a deadly adventure of danger and temptation, a journey that will force him to face his innermost demons and possibilities both sacred and profane. For Refuge hides a shocking truth about the very nature of the world itself - a secret that will start a war without end.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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

Publishers Weekly
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.
VOYA
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.
—Ann Welton
Library Journal
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380978915
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/20/2004
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Victoria Strauss was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, and graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in comparative religion. She wrote her first novel when she was seventeen during a year off between high school and college. The author of The Burning Land, Garden of the Stone, and Arm of the Stone, Strauss lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her husband and three cats.

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Read an Excerpt

The Burning Land

Way of Ârata


By Victoria Strauss

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2004 Victoria Strauss
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9756-0



CHAPTER 1

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 justified 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 Ârata 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, a labyrinth of courts and offices and suites that, from the first days of the church, had been the seat of the Âratist leadership. For the past eighty years it had stood empty, for the Caryaxist rebellion had sent the Brethren into exile. But the Caryaxists were gone now, and the Sons and Daughters had taken back their home.

The red gate at the wall's midpoint was unlocked—meant not to bar entry but to remind those who passed through it of the separateness of the men and women who lived on its other side. It gave onto a long courtyard paved in the same ironstone as the square. At the court's far end, a pavilion with a yellow-tiled roof marked the entrance to the Evening City.

Four guards stood duty inside, clad in the white stoles of the Forceless and displaying on their arms and cheeks the sinuous tattoos of ordinates from the kingdom of Kanu- Tapa, where Skambys, Patron of war, was the most important of the Aspects, and martial arts were part of Âratist training. Behind them rose two great sets of vermilion- painted doors. Those on the left, which gave access to the offices where administrative work was done, were open. Those on the right were closed. Beyond them lay the living quarters of the Brethren, where no one went without permission.

Gyalo approached the guards' leader. He came here daily, in his capacity as aide to the Son Utamnos; the guards all knew him, a fact they acknowledged now by ignoring him completely. This time, though, his purpose was different.

"I have a summons." By custom, he spoke Arsacian, the common language of the church. "From the Bearer."

The leader's bored, superior expression did not change. He took the message cylinder Gyalo offered and scanned the paper inside. Turning, he nodded to one of his subordinates, who disappeared through the right-hand doors. The leader handed the summons back to Gyalo and withdrew his attention again, as thoroughly as if Gyalo had ceased to exist.

Under other circumstances Gyalo might have been annoyed at this display of Tapati arrogance, but today he was too distracted. His apprehension flowed through him like water. It was unexpected, this anxiety—not the feeling itself, for given the identity of his summoner some degree of nervousness was to be expected, but its acuteness. Had not Utamnos, warning him to expect the summons, told him that its purpose would honor him? Yet Utamnos either could not or would not reveal what the purpose was, giving him instead a list of documents to read in preparation: accounts of the Caryaxist occupation, descriptions of Thuxra City, the small body of writings on the Burning Land. Over the past four days the mystery had become more and more oppressive. Now, waiting in the pavilion with only the disdainful guards for company, Gyalo felt nearly ill with accumulated stress.

The guard returned, another Forceless monk behind him. The monk scrutinized Gyalo's summons and tucked it into a pocket of his gown.

"Come," he said.

He led the way through the doors on the right, into rooms and corridors familiar to Gyalo from his visits to Utamnos's private suite, and then into regions Gyalo did not know. Everywhere was magnificence, both intact—astonishing floor mosaics, intricately carved columns and door frames, gorgeously stenciled ceilings, majestic galleries flanked by graveled courts—and marred—defaced murals, derelict gardens, ruined atriums, shattered carvings. The Caryaxists had been great graffitists, and the returning Âratist leadership had found much of the Evening City decorated with revolutionary slogans and lewd cartoons. Despite the priority given to the removal of these, a few still remained, ugly scrawlings in red paint like blood, yellow paint like bile: Ârata's colors, used to mock him.

Gyalo's guide delivered him at last into a large chamber with a coffered ceiling and a floor of red tile. "Wait here," he directed, and departed.

Gyalo paced the length of the room, halting before the windows. They faced onto a small garden—not overgrown, like many of those he had just passed, but exquisitely restored, with clipped shrubs and carefully raked gravel paths. The warm air smelled of roses. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, seeking calm. He was aware of the beating of his heart, the ebb and flow of his apprehension.

There were footsteps behind him. He turned. A man in white-and-crimson clothes was passing through the doorway, followed by two Tapati guards and a teenage boy. The man towered above all three of his companions; he moved with the swift forceful stride of someone who assumed without considering it that he would be made way for. Gyalo had seen this man many times—had heard him speak many times, too, in rich tones that made all words beautiful—but always from a distance, always surrounded by scores, even hundreds, of others. He had never, at this point in his career, thought to stand solitary before the Blood Bearer, incarnate Son of Ârata's First Messenger and elected leader of the Âratist church.

He came forward and sank to his knees on the cool tiles. He bowed his head, crossing his hands before his face, and said, in a voice that shook only a little:

"Great is Ârata. Great is his Way."

"Go in light," the Bearer replied. "Get up."

Gyalo obeyed. The Bearer was about forty years of age, with broad handsome features and heavy-lidded eyes. An intricate image of the sun, Ârata's symbol, was tattooed in red upon his forehead. He had the tawny skin and heavy bone structure common in the kingdom of Haruko, where he had been born in this incarnation; the great weight of muscle he carried was apparent in his corded neck and wide shoulders and the round hard sinews of his right arm, left bare by the traditional draping of his white stole. Like all vowed Âratists he kept his chin and skull clean-shaven, and wore the monk's uniform of loose trousers and knee-length sleeveless gown—though his were made of lustrous red silk, rather than Gyalo's plain linen or the coarse cotton worn by the Forceless.

On the Bearer's chest rested the badge of his office, a thick gold chain with a pendant cage of gold wire, inside which gleamed a honey-colored jewel as large as a man's clenched fist: the Blood of Ârata. The Blood was round in shape and naturally faceted; a core of living flame seemed to dance at its heart. All vowed Âratists wore a smaller simulacrum of this necklace, hidden beneath their clothing, but the most cleverly crafted of these could only suggest the splendor of the original. If Gyalo had not known what the jewel was, he would still have sensed its sacredness, in that shuddering brilliance that was unlike anything else in the world—so much more beautiful, and so much stranger, than was apparent from a distance.

"Your master told you to expect this summons, yes?"

With difficulty, Gyalo wrenched his attention away from the jewel. "Yes, Old One."

"Your master holds you in high esteem." The Bearer's eyes moved across Gyalo's face, as if measuring him against that assessment. "He tells me that he relies on you beyond any of his other aides."

Gyalo bowed his head. "His confidence honors me, Old One."

"Come." The Bearer turned and strode toward the chair his guards had brought forward and placed at the center of the room. Gyalo followed, halting a little distance away and arranging himself in a posture of respect, his eyes cast down and his hands clasped before him. He was conscious of the guards at the Bearer's back, and of the boy, kneeling quietly on the floor at the Bearer's feet. The boy was also Haruko-born, paler of skin than the Bearer, but with the same strong bones and heavy-lidded almond eyes. His black hair hung loose, and he wore the plain white tunic and trousers of a postulant. But the sun tattoo on his forehead, and of course his presence, marked him for what he truly was: another incarnate Son, too young yet to take up the burdens of leadership but old enough to observe his elders in the performance of their duties. Infant Sons and Daughters were given to the adult Brethren to raise as their own: This boy, Vimâta, was both the Bearer's spirit-brother and his foster child.

"Tell me about yourself," the Bearer said. "Where were you born?"

"In Rimpang, Old One." Rimpang, capital of the kingdom of Chonggye, was home to the largest Âratist center in Galea after Baushpar; the Brethren had taken refuge there upon their flight from the Caryaxist rebellion. "My mother was a cook in one of the convents. She died when I was seven. The nuns gave me to the monks to raise."

"Had you no other family?"

"My father. But he was a soldier, and stationed elsewhere. There were only the monks to take me in."

The Bearer shifted in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. His broad face was attentive, as if he were hearing these things for the first time. Gyalo had no doubt, however, that the Bearer already knew everything that was to be known about him. This recital was, in some way, a test.

"Did your father ever return?"

"Yes, Old One, about a year after my mother died. He wanted me to have a military career, not a religious one. He demanded that I be taken from the monastery and given to him. The monks told me I could choose, and that if I wanted to stay, they would honor my wishes. I decided to stay. My father was angry—he tried to get the courts to intervene, he even petitioned the overlord of Rimpang province. But then he was called away. He never came back. I heard later that he died in the Jingya epidemics."

"Why did you decide to stay? You didn't yet know you were a Shaper. And you were very young—too young, surely, to know what you desired for the rest of your life."

"From the time I can remember, Old One, Ârata has called me. One of the earliest memories I have is of the Rimpang temple core—the image of Ârata Creator, the incense and the candles, the offerings and the silence. I loved the silence—I thought I could feel the god within it. I think I always wanted to vow the Way, though I never truly understood that until my father tried to make me a soldier."

"You would have come to the Way in any case, being what you are, whether your father wished it or not."

"Yes, Old One. But most Shapers never choose their service—they are chosen, by their ability. But I did choose, before ever I knew what I was. I feel blessed to have been granted that chance."

The Bearer studied Gyalo; at his feet, Vimâta gravely echoed his spirit-brother's attention. The Bearer's heavy-lidded gaze was extraordinarily direct, and also extraordinarily opaque. Gyalo could feel the force of the powerful personality behind it; he could see the ancient intelligence that lived in those eyes. But he could not begin to guess what the Bearer might be thinking.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Burning Land by Victoria Strauss. Copyright © 2004 Victoria Strauss. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Arsacian Pronunciation,
The Doctrine of Baushpar,
Prologue: The Messengers' Tale,
Part I: INTO THE WILDERNESS,
Part II: THE DREAMER'S PROMISE,
Part III: THE APOSTATE'S JOURNEY,
Part IV: OUT OF EXILE,
Preview: The Awakened City,
Glossary,
Acknowledgments,
About the Author,

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First Chapter

The Burning Land

Chapter One

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.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Victoria Strauss

In an exclusive interview with Barnes & Noble.com in January 2004, Strauss talked about her fascination with religion, and the motivation behind writing The Burning Land.

Paul Goat Allen: Victoria, as a graduate of Vassar College with a degree in comparative religion, you're obviously interested in belief systems. What was your motivation for creating the very intricate religion of Âratism? I was fascinated by the mix of Old Testament ambiance and poetic Taoist philosophy.

Victoria Strauss: It's interesting that you should mention the Old Testament, because that was something I initially set out to avoid. I wanted to come up with a religion that wouldn't specifically resemble the Judeo-Christian tradition -- I really wanted to do a fantasy that would have an Eastern rather than a Western feel. Most of my initial research was concentrated on Eastern religious traditions: Taoism, the various forms of Buddhism, Shinto. But I also wanted Âratism to be monotheistic, and as a result a lot of elements crept in that are more Western than Eastern, such as the idea of a human prophet taking direct dictation from the god. The Way of Ârata wound up being about an equal mix of East and West. I also wanted to create a religion that would feel real. Many fantasy religions are little more than window dressing or scene setting, or else they're highly conventionalized versions of pantheism, with gods that serve whatever purpose is needed by the plot and maybe some priests and nifty rituals -- but not a lot of thought-out legend or theology. I wanted the Way of Ârata to seem like a living faith, a faith that some group of people somewhere in the real world might actually follow.

PGA: I loved the striking color imagery throughout this novel. It was as if the blood of the sleeping god was manifesting itself in all of its creations -- "the scarlet sand," "crimson silk," "redback ram," "the blood orange light of sunset," etc. Was this imagery a conscious decision?

VS: Color imagery is important to Âratists: According to scripture, the god's skin is red and his eyes and hair are gold, and Âratist clerics wear these colors as an expression of reverence. So color was a theme from the start, especially as Gyalo and the others travel through the Burning Land, where they believe the sleeping god lies. I'm also a very visual writer; I see what I write about like a movie in my head, and things like color, texture, light, and shadow always play an important part. In fact, I often use visual aids -- for instance, when I was working on the segment of the book set in the Burning Land, I had pictures of Petra, the ancient Jordanian city that's the inspiration for the lost community of Refuge, and the Australian Outback, on which I based most of the geography of the Burning Land, pasted up around my office. But I also think that a lot of this sort of imagery creeps in unconsciously, especially when you're working from a concept that you feel very strongly. I didn't realize until your question how much red there actually is in the book. It's nice to know my conscious and unconscious writing minds were on the same track!

PGA: Was the character of Gyalo, the reluctant prophet, based loosely on any historical figures?

VS: No. I wanted Gyalo to be his own person. I also wanted him to be an archetypal figure, if that doesn't sound too pretentious, in that he experiences dilemmas of faith and loyalty that readers will recognize as universal. That's somewhat harder to achieve if you also bring in the expectations and associations that result from an identification with a specific historical figure.

PGA: I heard that The Burning Land is the first book in a duology. What is the tentative title and publication date of Book Two, and can you give your readers a little hint as to what transpires in it?

VS: I'm still at work on the second book. The publication date isn't set, but I'm hoping it will be out in 2005. It doesn't have a title yet. I'm superstitious about titles, since the only novel for which I had a title right from the start is also the only novel I never finished. I'm afraid that if I come up with a title too soon I'll jinx myself. I don't want to say too much about Book Two, for fear of spoilers for The Burning Land, but I can tell you that Gyalo makes the choice he tried to avoid in Book One (though I'll leave you to guess which way he chooses), Axane continues to question, the Brethren get their comeuppance, and Râvar discovers that vengeance isn't all it's cracked up to be. I'm hoping to answer all the questions raised at the end of The Burning Land, but in ways the reader doesn't expect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2003

    Excellent epic fantasy

    When the heretics threw out the rightful King and his followers and dismantled the religious worship of Alta, the government in exile fought to reclaim what was theirs. State and church working together defeated the heretics and the worship of Alta became mandated. Shapers (sorcerers) take vows of celibacy and use a drug that weakens their powers.......................................... The Dreamers of Arsace, those people who can visit other places in their dreams, sense a disturbance in the Burning Lands. The church believes apostate shapers are using unfettered magic and mount an expedition to find out who is causing the disturbances. Gyalo, a very religious shaper, leads the expedition. After much hardship the troupe crosses the desert to find the cave city of Refuge, a place where Arsacian exiles fled persecution. Here Gyalo¿s adventures begin as he questions his beliefs and believes that the god Alta has awakened from his slumber to usher in a new age. Back home he would be declared heretic......................................... There are so few fantasies that convincingly seem like they are on real earth, but world builder phenomenal Victoria Strauss does it so effortlessly, fans will think that Arsace is a magical France after the revolution failed. Gyalo is the key character, who firmly believed in magical tethering until Refuge makes him challenge all he once believed. Knowing he will be condemned and in love with the daughter of the ruler of Refuge , he still tries to do what is right as a new age dawns. Fans of Sterling Lanier will enjoy trekking with Gyalo as he journeys the fantastic realm of THE BURNING LAND.................................. Harriet Klausner.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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