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Catherine Asaro
book cover

2004, February, Luna
Buy from Amazon.com (trade paperback)

Who recommends: Lynn
Who discommends:

THE CHARMED SPHERE and THE FAIRY GODMOTHER are the first two entries in the Luna Books line. These two seem to me to have a very distinct "brand" resemblance, mostly in a good way, but not completely. They are both set in a sort of generic fantasyland reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones' "Tough Guide."

I recommend THE CHARMED SPHERE, by Catherine Asaro, but it ended up being less than the sum of its parts for me. There were a lot of loose ends, inconsistencies, and characters behaving stupidly in order to advance the plot. The story ended up feeling both generic and cobbled together.

The magic setup has promise. Magic is done by concentration on shape and color, and the more sides to the shape, the more power. The dodecahedron jewel one character has sounds interesting. The color magic starts by being spectrum/rainbow based. So far, so good. Next, the characters.

Our first heroine (we have two couples here) is Chime, who is your typical fantasy mage, i.e., she is the most powerful ever seen, yada, yada. This means that she must marry the heir apparent to the kingdom, Muller. Muller has been masquerading as a fop because of feelings of guilt and unworth, but he is really a master swordsman, etc. Their progression is fairly nicely done.

Then the second heroine appears. Iris is "blocked" but turns out to really be the most powerful mage once her power is freed, displacing Chime. Oops, this means Iris will have to marry Muller, except...a prince who was thought to be dead is really alive. Jarid has been blind, deaf, and mute since he was six years old, when his dying mother saved his life from an ambush at great cost. Iris cures him, and now maybe he's the most powerful mage. Since Jarid is more directly in the line of succession, he displaces Muller.

After all this, we have pairings of Chime-Muller and Iris-Jarid, so all should be happy, happy. But, no, we have outside dangers...and an evil villain. And guess what, Muller is a powerful mage, too, but totally out of control and can only work with damaged/flawed shapes. He doesn't want anyone to know.

Damaged guys, rescuing women. Bah.

There are lots of good bits. For example, there is one tower with lots of carved shapes, good for magic, and another tower with the flawed shapes that seem ideal for Muller. So maybe his power is or was a known one? But that doesn't really get explained, and as the book continues, his hiding his powers makes less and less sense.

There are also bits that aren't as good. The color system seems to waver between being drawn from a spectrum and being drawn from gems so that we have sapphire and green and violet all being used. (I was waiting for ultraviolet and infrared, but it didn't happen.) Also, the book couldn't decide about lesser mage powers and their incidence levels; one of Chime's siblings clearly has some powers, and the early part of the book seemed to me to imply more low/mid level mages in this world.

THE CHARMED SPHERE needed another complete revision pass and a strong editorial intervention to say "fix this and this and this" (or else it had one but needed another.) Also, I had no sense of depth. That is, the history had no more depth than the parts needed for the story. It didn't feel real in its own context.

All that said, if I never had to read a book worse than this one, I'd be very very happy. If read as a series of short stories, there is some great writing in some of the parts. But don't expect consistency from the characters. For example, I almost felt that some of the parts that were Iris's had originally been written for Chime.

In summary, the characters and setting were sometimes cardboard, but the artwork on that cardboard is of high quality; overall, the book is well worth reading. --Lynn (11 Feb 04)

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