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Fantasy Round 34: Fortress in the Eye of Time


Having been visiting used book stores lately, I’ve re-read one of my old favorites: Fortress in the Eye of Time, the first book in the Fortress series by C.J. Cherryh.

It’s still a favorite of mine (although Michael is not so much of a fan), so let’s discuss it a bit.

Also, here be some spoilers.

I'm not sure which fortress is supposed to be in the eye of time, but the one at Ynefel (pictured on the cover) is probably the best bet.

I’m not sure which fortress is supposed to be in the eye of time, but the one at Ynefel (pictured on the cover) is probably the best bet.


Take Your Time

One of the things I enjoy about this novel (though YMMV) is the relatively slow pacing.  The book is dense with description, and gives an excellent sense of the emotions and impressions surrounding a situation.  In terms of the political intrigue, there’s a lot going on — and we get to see the main characters attempting to reason it all out, which lets a reader who’s gotten a bit lost puzzle things through.

And there is a lot to puzzle through.  Speaking of which…

I Don’t Need To Explain Magic, Do I?

An interesting aspect of the story is that we don’t have most of the standard schticks for explaining magic.

Young wizard getting a first lesson?  Nope.  Tristen (one of our protagonists) doesn’t do magic the same way as the wizards — wizardry is distinct from magic — and their instruction doesn’t do him much good.  Tristen ends up puzzling out most of this on his own.

Young magician epically failing by setting his own castle on fire?  Nope.  Tristen’s magic is more subtle than that, and almost by definition, doesn’t go awry as he explores.

Wise old wizard explaining to the uninitiated?  There’s a little of this, but Cefwyn, the prince and heir to the throne, has already gotten quite a bit of instruction on the matter, and knows some of the basics.  His advisor gives him some advice, but much of it is vague.  He’s also not interested in learning to do the wizardry himself.

It is great fun to see Cefwyn sending his subordinates to search the archives for information, or discuss matters with the straightforward but often naive Tristen.

While vaguely defined, the distinction between wizardry and magic (learned vs. innate) seems to be upheld fairly consistently throughout the book.

Finally, one of the biggest puzzles in the story — is Tristen actually the notorious ancient Barraketh, conquering general and dangerous magician from centuries ago? — is left somewhat open for further consideration.  Much of the story involves him slowly unraveling what he knows and remembers about the world, and contrasting his kind and open nature with his knowledge of horses, weapons and warfare.

Of course, that hits up against some of the historical issues.

Why Do The Religious People Always Hate Magic?

Seriously, this shows up in so many stories with wizards.  It gets a bit old.

Thankfully, Cefwyn has enough sense and influence to avoid a “burn the witch” scenario, but it’s still annoying.

On the plus side, it’s not all one-sided, and the politics of the settingp provide some explanation.  In particular, the ancient kings who were overthrown by Cefwyn’s grandfather were famous for their magic.  As a consequence, his family’s support of the religious sect that opposed magic and wizardry made sense, and he still kept the wizard-turned-priest who was a follower of another sect as an advisor.

Furthermore, there’s a third religious sect that has been suppressed, which supports magic use and is frequently viewed as a problem for Cefwyn’s kingdom.  They’re still mad about the death of their king, and are viewed as potential traitors or assassins.

It’s easier to buy once you have the background, but it’s still irritating.  On the other hand, there are plenty of real religious groups that ban the use of safe or beneficial things in the real world, so… perhaps it’s not so far-fetched.

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