Phoenix Pick 2011
(first published by HarperCollins Eos, 1999)
Trade Paperback: $14.99
At the heart of the Fortress lay the Garden.
At the heart of the Garden lay the Stone.
It was a living entity of power beyond understanding–not even by the men who had used its energies to control the unGifted masses, ever since the wrenching cataclysm that shattered the union of Hand and Mind and split the world centuries ago. Then came Bron, his arrival long foretold as the one destined to restore the balance between Hand and Mind. But Bron had other plans. He stole the Stone…and vanished.
Now Bron’s daughter Cariad, a skilled empath and assassin, must follow the footsteps of a father she’s never known, into the depths of the same Fortress. Waiting there is Jolyon, her father’s greatest enemy, a man whose thirst for domination is matched only by his taste for blood…and who possesses the power to satisfy both appetites. Cariad must learn the secret of Jolyon’s strength before it is too late. For just as her father’s arrival was prophesied, so too is his return. And this time Jolyon is ready–for Bron to die.
The plot is complex yet convincing, and the abundant, well-chosen details of the settings–as well as the carefully developed characters–make this high fantasy a superior and original novel.
- Publishers Weekly (starred review) -
Strauss is a fine writer whose characters have depth and integrity and who has thought through her world with impressive thoroughness. She’s a great find! I look forward to her next book.
- Kate Elliott, author of King’s Dragon -
A worthy continuation of what I have no doubt will be a sparkling career in the fantasy field. Strauss handles the language with lyric dexterity and grace. The world of the Stone is well-realized and often surprising. A very satisfying read.
- Katherine Kurtz, author of The Derinyi Chronicles -
Though building on earlier events, this well-told novel largely stands alone, a powerful tale of repression, rebellion, and prophecy where nothing turns out quite as expected, raising it well above the crowd of seemingly similar, overweight fantasies.
- Locus -
Strauss has created a complex plot filled with action, suspense, intrigue, and romance. Rich characterizations and vivid settings combine in a story that readers will relish….Highly recommended for serious readers of fantasy.
- Kliatt -
Strauss has constructed a very detailed and complex world, one to appeal to fans of Katherine Kurtz, Melanie Rawn, and C.J. Cherryh, but with a subtlety that lets the drama of events speak for itself.
- SF Site -
Victoria Strauss’s first book, The Arm of the Stone, was phenomenal, and The Garden of the Stone is every bit as cool as the first novel!…Strauss’s novels emphasize very well-crafted plots full of wonderful twists and surprises.
- Paul Goat Allen, B&N Explorations -
The writing in Garden of the Stone shines–impeccably honed and polished until each paragraph darn near glistens. You believe in the reality of Strauss’s well-developed characters, and Strauss leads her readers down some nicely twisted paths before the final denouement.
- Crescent Blues -
The world that Victoria Strauss has created is a fascinating one….With suspense and a fast-moving narrative, Strauss’ latest novel is thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.
- Claire White for The Internet Writing Journal -
Once again Strauss has created a richly textured and intricately wrought novel.
- Diana Tixier Herald for Genreflecting -
This story of parallel worlds divided by their choices to use either mindpower or handpower moves in unexpected and satisfying new directions….Thoughtfully and with finesse, this novel holds a mirror free of enchantment up to humanity.
- Sharon Schultz-Elsing for Curled up With a Good Book -
Orrin looked at Cariad. They were standing face-to-face, the clouds of their cold-condensed breath mingling in the air between them. The turmoil of his feeling wracked him like a fever; he seemed on the very edge of control. But Cariad barely sensed it. An excitement was rising in her, a wild euphoria. The urge to action filled the whole of her consciousness. Her muscles burned with the labor of keeping still.
He reached out and touched her arm. “Be careful.”
Cariad laughed. Not at his words: at her exhilaration, at the joyous pulse of her Gift, at her core-deep understanding of her own invulnerability. But Orrin could not know that. His face changed. He stepped back. He stooped again to Margit, and with some effort lifted her in his arms. He turned, his steps heavy with the weight of his burden, and left the antechamber.
Cariad watched him go. She regretted her reaction. But she was fully shifted into performance-mode now, a state of being that was of, but not engaged with, the world of ordinary human actions and responses. She was aware of her readiness, of her power, of the fine balance of her control. She felt the river of prophecy all around her, so powerful that it seemed to overrule the truth of the unmoving stone beneath her feet.
With her making power she conjured a binding of invisibility—not the Guardian illusion she had used before, but a full resistance-style shifting of the substance of her flesh, so that she became indistinguishable from the world around her. She set out at an easy run, following the tiny mindlight marks she had made, extinguishing them as she passed. She caught up with Orrin and the transporters just beyond the first tunnel turning. Orrin was arranging Margit in the cart. The little group felt her go by, for she was moving fast enough to stir the air. Orrin turned his head, following the wind of her transit with his eyes.
She reached the gate of the Keep’s downworld. She laid her hand on the lock and snapped it open. She passed through the warehouse area and into the wide, night-deserted corridor, skimming like a shadow toward the stairway that led to the upper domains. She took the stairs two at a time, all the way to the third floor, and crossed the barrier that shut the servant world away from the inner sanctums of the Keep. She still carried Orrin’s lump of metal, heavy in the little bag around her neck: the barrier yielded without protest, depositing her in the featureless, snaking corridors of the Roundhead living area.
Outside Jolyon’s chambers, she paused. From her previous forays and her mindscans of his companions’ servants, she knew that he employed extensive barriers against intruders. Even the walls were protected, with Gift-wards draped like veils across the stones. All these bindings were keyed to the shape of Guardian Gifts; she knew from experience that her own Gift, trained to entirely different channels, was invisible to Guardian defenses. But these defenses had been made by Roundheads. There were three major hurdles to her intent: this was the first.
She set her body against the wall. The gray blocks, nearly a foot thick, offered a more difficult passage than the door, but they were defended by only a single binding, whereas the door was barred by at least two. Closing her eyes, she summoned up the full force of her making power. Those with making Gifts knew that the solidity of matter was an illusion: at the most basic level of being there were only tiny particles dancing in infinite space. A making Gift could regroup these particles or disperse them—or, if it were very strong, pull them aside to make an opening, and hold the space long enough for a human body to slip through.
The feeling of crossing was like fever: an expanding lightness, a sense of heat, a spinning giddiness. Cariad sensed the wards all around her, like light; but they did not see her. A heartbeat, and it was over. She opened her eyes on the other side of the wall.
She stood in a sumptuous, deserted chamber, strewn with maze-patterned carpets and lit by mindlight flowing ceaselessly down the walls. Silently she traversed it. The door on the other side was not bound, and she passed through it as easily as an expelled breath. Beyond lay a hallway, with more doors opening off each side. These were the suites of the companions. According to the knowledge she had taken from the minds of their servants, at this hour they would be abed.
This was the mission’s second hurdle. The servants she could easily bind into sleep, for they were unGifted. But the companions were Roundheads, and she did not think she could make a sleep-binding strong enough to hold them. The only way she could be sure they would not wake and interrupt her was to kill them. She would do it manually, to save time and strength.
She melted through the first door. A rich sitting room lay beyond, the globes of mindlight at its corners dimmed for the night. The air was warm and heavily scented, a heady incense smell with a hint of less pleasant things beneath. The door to the bedchamber stood ajar, a slice of blackness against the figured tapestries that hid the walls. She slipped soundlessly through it, her dagger already drawn. At its tip she had set a pearl of mindlight, to guide her way. The tiny radiance revealed the shadowy mass of the bed, its coverlets thrown back. The bodies of the two men upon it showed slightly darker than the pale sheets. By his bulk, she recognized the closest as the largest of Jolyon’s companions, Saranero.
A dense odor of wine and sweat and perfume rose off the bed; Cariad thought fleetingly of the sorting room, and the laundress through whose hands these soiled sheets would pass. Saranero lay on his back. She positioned the luminous tip of the dagger above his heart and then, with the precision of her training, plunged it into his chest, burying it nearly to the hilt. He died at once, without a sound. Bracing a hand against his bare shoulder, she wrenched the dagger free. A little of the mindlight was left behind, a ghostly shimmering at the edges of the welling wound.
She killed the second man as well. She did not recognize him, though by his cropped hair and the rings he had not removed, he was a Roundhead. Reentering the sitting room, she passed through the narrow door that opened onto the tiny chamber of Saranero’s bodyservant, and bound him deeply into slumber.
The next companion, Ruen, was alone. He was not drunk like Saranero, but he slept the heavy sleep of a man secure amid impenetrable defenses, and she dispatched him with equal ease. She bound his bodyservant, and then moved on. She found the third suite empty. She had known there was a chance of this, for her servant mindscans had showed her that Baffrid, the third companion, often spent the night elsewhere. It was not what she would have liked, but it would have to do. Baffrid’s bodyservant was there, in his little room; she bound him as she had the others and then left the suite.
She halted just before the arched double portals that marked the entrance to Jolyon’s private apartments. Beyond them lay unknown territory. She had never been able to catch and scan Jolyon’s bodyservant, who went nowhere without his master, and the other servants had never entered Jolyon’s rooms.
She pulled the little bag she wore from underneath her tunic and slipped it over her head. Inside were Orrin’s lump of metal, her poison capsule, several short cylinders that could be fitted together to make a blowtube, three tiny fletched darts, and a ceramic vial. The vial held a small measure of the power-deadening drug she and Laran and Shabishara had used on Balak. She had carried it with her to the mountains, along with the formula, intending to give it to Goldwine, but because of her foster-mother’s reaction, she had never done so. It was a decision that, in retrospect, seemed almost prescient. This was the key to her intent: the thing that shaped a viable plan out of a feverish dream.
She removed the vial, leaving the blowtube sections and the darts—which she would have had to use if Goldwine had not sent the quarterbow—in place. It held just enough to treat two of the little quarrels. The drug, heavy and viscous, dried quickly to a leathery film, which would re-liquefy when it met the heat of flesh. She primed the bow and tucked the second dart into her belt, where she would be able to reach it easily, but where it would not pierce her clothing. She corked the empty vial and replaced it in the bag, then hung the bag again around her neck. She got to her feet, the bow ready in her hand.
This was the moment. She had wondered how it would feel when it came. She was aware of her readiness, her purpose, her power, the beating of her heart and the rhythm of her breath. But these were only the things she had brought with her. What lay ahead, on the threshold of initiation, was suddenly too huge to see.
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