After a two-book stint in paranormal romance/urban fantasy, I was delighted to learn that Melanie Rawn would return to fantasy with her next project. Though both Spellbinder and Fire Raiser were good novels, they featured a different narrative voice and could have been written under a pseudonym.
With The Diviner, the Melanie Rawn which gave us The Dragon Prince trilogy (Dragon Prince (Canada, USA, Europe), The Star Scroll (Canada, USA, Europe), Sunrunner's Fire (Canada, USA, Europe)), The Dragon Star trilogy (Stronghold (Canada, USA, Europe), The Dragon Token (Canada, USA, Europe), Skybowl (Canada, USA, Europe)), and The Exiles (The Ruins of Ambrai (Canada, USA, Europe) and The Mageborn Traitor (Canada, USA, Europe)) is back with what could be her most tightly plotted and adroitly paced novel to date.
The Diviner is a prequel to the 1996 World Fantasy Award finalist The Golden Key (Canada, USA, Europe), which was co-authored by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliot. Be that as it may, having read The Golden Key is no prerequisite to fully enjoy this newest addition in the saga. Although it paves the way for what is to come, The Diviner is a stand-alone work that makes for a satisfying reading experience on its own.
Here's the blurb:
Bestselling author Melanie Rawn's triumphant return to high fantasy.
The only survivor of royal treachery that eliminates his entire family, Azzad al-Ma'aliq flees to the desert and dedicates himself to vengeance. With the help of the Shagara, a nomadic tribe of powerful magicians, he begins to take his revenge-but at a terrible cost to himself.
The Middle Eastern and Mediterranean settings were a welcome change from the usual medieval European environment so predominant in fantasy novels. The Tza'ab Rih desert and its people come alive through Rawn's vivid narrative. Discovering more about the mysterious Shagara was an added bonus. This is a multi-generational tale that bears some similarities with the Umayyad conquest of Spain, especially in the last portion of the novel.
Say what you will about Melanie Rawn, but the woman has a knack for creating endearing characters. Azzad al-Ma'aliq is the latest in a long line of memorable protagonists. Following his quest as fate sets him on his path of vengence sets the tone and makes for a very interesting beginning. There is a lot more to Azzad than meets the eye, and the first portion of The Diviner, Il-Kadiri, could well be Rawn's best work to date. Khamsin, Azzad's stallion, is almost a character in its own right. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of great characters, chief among them Fadhil, Challa Meryem, Leyliah, and Abb Shagara.
The second portion, Il-Nazzari, chronicles the rise of Alessid, Azzad's son. Like his father, the young man seeks to avenge a great wrong. And like his father, he would leave an indelible mark in the events that would shape history. Not as likeable as Azzad, Alessid and his family are nevertheless well-drawn characters. There are a lot of familiar faces in the supporting cast, which makes for a smooth transition between the two different historical periods.
The last portion, Il-Ma'anzuri, features the tale of Qamar, Azzad's great-grandson. The enigmatic Solanna and the renegade Shagara made for a fascinating supporting cast. And yet, I can't help but feel that this third portion was inexplicably rushed. Characters and events are not fleshed out the way they were in the first two parts of the book, and hence the payoff at the end doesn't have the emotional impact I was expecting. Since The Diviner is a relatively short novel in today's market (weighing in at 374 pages), I find it a little odd that ending could have been rushed in such a way. Indeed, an extra twenty pages or so would likely have done the trick.
But even if the ending is indeed a bit rushed, the rest of the book was paced to perfection. The story and the characters managed to grab hold of me from the get-go and I made short work of The Diviner. The prose was fluid and the imagery arresting, especially while the story takes place in the desert. Melanie Rawn can at times be a little heavy on the romance, but I felt that everything was just about right in this one.
All in all, a most auspicious return to fantasy by Melanie Rawn. I am aware that there's a whole new generation of SFF readers that have perhaps never read anything by the author. Though I'd suggest beginning with the aforementioned trilogies, if you'd prefer a stand-alone work to get an idea of what Rawn is all about, The Diviner should do the trick.
The final verdict: 8/10
For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.