Imagine a world in which “every stone and every tree has secrets to tell.” Where dragons, Faeries and great birds called “gryphons” are commonplace, and one has to be granted a permit to have a child. In this fantastical universe some have the ability to create protection “barriers” when trouble arises. Invisibility is possible, as is shapeshifting, and the manipulation of the elements. Potions are made from “the spinal juice of a Tian Xia invisible eel,” and the Thanatosi—strange, faceless, acrobatic beings called upon by Great Magic to serve as assassins—are a very real threat.
As a writer who deals in realistic fiction, I have often wondered about my literary cousins who pen fantasy and science fiction. For me it would be intensely arduous to fabricate mythical geographies, beings, creatures, and names, thus I appreciate those writers who have the ability to stretch their imaginations in such far-flung directions and create these otherworldly novels. What a gift.
Bone, Fog, Ash & Star is the third book in Catherine Egan’s trilogy The Last Days of Tian Di. The star of the story, sixteen-year-old Eliza Tok, is both Sorceress and human; her father is a Sorba (desert-dweller in the Great Sand Sea), and her mother “an unusually powerful and rebellious” Sorceress. As the book opens, Eliza is trying her best to change into a raven: these are her spirit birds\protectors: “She could see what they saw, not with her eyes but somewhere in her mind.”
We learn that Eliza is studying magic with Foss, a Mancer and Spellmaster who is expected to bring the girl back from the world of Di Shang (“ruled predominantly by the laws of nature”) to the world of Tian Xi (where “the very land and air … seemed to thrum with Magic”). Foss is a benevolent character, charting the separation of the two worlds. He tells Eliza that “The life of a Sorceress is perpetual struggle … With forces both external and internal.” The girl needs no telling; she lives it every day.
For this realist, the most interesting aspect of this fantasy is the synchronicities between the “real” and the “unreal.” For example, both Eliza and her studious best friend, Nell, have teenaged crushes. Egan does a fine job of revealing this youthful attraction via passages like the following, which demonstrates how Eliza feels about her love interest, Charlie: “Lately she found it hard to look at him without her heart quickening, and when flying with him the joy was less in the flight than in the excuse to put her arms around him.” It’s so human (except for the flying on his gryphon back!), and for me, it is a large part of what propels this richly cast story.
Charlie plays a major role in the 308-page novel, and is one of many who, interestingly, speak with a Scottish lilt: “didnae,” “aye,” “nay,” “Lah,” and “couldnay,” are peppered throughout the dialogue, and I smiled at how often expressions like “Oh, thank [or blast] the Ancients!” appear.
Egan incorporates much poetry into her text, ie: the character Aysu has “eyes like dying stars,” and at one point Eliza “slid like a tear from an eye into the earth, and the earth was made of slumbering bodies.”
The Vancouver-born author currently lives in Connecticut. To learn more about her or this fascinating trilogy, see her website at www.catherineegan.com.
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