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Amberlight, by Sylvia Kelso

by Sylvia Kelso
260 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Tellurith is the Head of Telluir House, one of the thirteen Great Houses of Amberlight. The strange, almost-sentient rock called qherrique, which the Houses of Amberlight mine and trade, tells Tellurith to take in and heal an outlander that she finds on the street. The outlander, whom she names Alkhes (for he has lost all but tantalizing snippets of his memory), will irreparably change Amberlight--for better or for worse.

Let me preface this by saying that this novel feels like a debut although it is not. Like her fellow Australian fantasist Fiona McIntosh, Kelso might be absolutely brilliant in a few years. But although I found this novel more than worth reading (and worth keeping on my space-limited bookshelf), it is definitely uneven. Yet it's also too short! The upcoming sequel Riversend has earned a spot on my TBB [To Be Bought] list. Tel and Alkhes have such a powerful relationship, with a delicious power imbalance that is even more elegant because of later plot developments. Kelso has developed an interesting and convincing matriarchial society, coupled with matter-of-fact progressive social treatment (e.g. Riversend will feature polygamy). And although the protagonists are clear, the minor characters are no less interesting. I like how Tel still cares about Sarth even when she's fallen in love with Alkhes, since she has known Sarth for far longer and real affection has developed despite their mutual heartbreak. And I want to read a story, fic or canon, from Sarth's perspective, especially relating to the men's tower. The setting feels different from the norm, too, although I'm not sure how much of that is due to Kelso's style.

Speaking of which: there's a Bujold blurb on the cover with which I only partially agree. Kelso's prose is definitely unique, but the imagery draws admiration rather than compulsion and I had a tendency to skim over it because it feels almost extraneous to the plot. It's in present tense, which doesn't bother me at all but can be off-putting to others. However, the most distinct difference is Kelso's constant use of fragments. Sometimes I fell into the flow nicely, but then a particularly jarring fragment would break the stream. The plot also mostly works if you don't think too hard--it's lovely and convoluted but doesn't quite click into place by the end.

Thus, as much as I fannishly love this story, I am a little hesitant to rec it. If it sounds like your cup of tea, it probably is; but if you're bothered by present tense or frequent fragmentation, you may want to pass.



January 2011



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