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Buy from IndieBoundSiege of Shadows was Lynn Abbey’s most ambitious novel up to that point, which makes its failure only that much more regrettable. This book never once stirred me or excited my sense of wonder. It’s totally uninteresting. It’s the sort of thing that makes me understand why many people, mainly hard SF fans, just plain don’t like fantasy. A book like this should not have you yawning so wide a dragon could fly down your throat.

Opening with an amazingly muddled 15-page prologue infodumping the entire backstory in prose that is painfully labored (“Those folk who did not wield a sword lived beneath the weight of a gauntleted fist.”) and often just confusing (a “roc” in this story is a large fortress, not the gigantic birds of legend), the novel conveys an air of pomposity and self-importance that seems endemic to so many epic fantasies: this is great mythmaking, pay attention! Thankfully, Abbey disposes of this pretentiousness once she is out of her prologue and into her story proper, but what we are left with is just plain dullsville.

The tale is about non-identical twins, a brother and sister, who live on the peninsula of Alberon. Kyle is the youngest son of the Dainis noble house, and therefore destined for nothing greater than to be steward of his eldest brother when said brother inherits their father’s roc. Kyle is a clumsy, nebbishy little fellow with not much in the way of self-esteem. In contrast, his sister Kiera is doted upon as the family’s only daughter, and she in turn is one of the only people around who doesn’t look down her nose, either lovingly or derisively, at Kyle. Still, she is selfish, immature, and manipulative, and I didn’t like her.

Upon their 18th birthdays, the youth of Alberon have a Rapture Dream, a prescient dream said to foretell their destinies. For Kyle and Kiera, it is a night of ceremony. Kyle awakens having dreamt about a terrifying journey into a dark and distant mountain range. His dream frightens him enough that Kiera is able to goad him into convincing their family that he shared her dream, which apparently consisted of nothing more than a trip to a winter estate. Once the pair makes the journey, accompanied by a suitably enormous retinue, Kyle is quite suddenly possessed by the spirit of a millenium-dead wizard.

This mage, Taslim, tries to persuade Kyle to undertake the mountain journey he dreamed about in an effort to locate the Siege of Shadows, a legendary golden throne that is said to bestow all sorts of divine power and knowledge upon whomever sits in it (thousands have died trying to find it). Kyle naturally resists this intrusion into his mind, while his behavior caused by his possessed state frightens his family.

It is quite amazing — to me, at least — that Abbey was wholly unequipped to give this premise the kind of engrossing and gripping storytelling it deserves. To her credit, she has created the inkling of a sympathetic hero in Kyle. But the rest of the story just did nothing at all for me. Even Kyle’s conflict with Taslim fell flat, amazing when you consider the possibilities inherent in two characters fighting for the control of one mind. (Basically, Kyle and Taslim just bicker.) To put it plainly, this novel lacks the pageantry, the magic, the wonder, and the excitement that are, in the hands of its best practitioners, fantasy’s stock in trade. This is the kind of novel in which ancient spirits can pop out of the sky to possess the living, spouting sarcastic dialogue to boot, without conveying a speck of the sort of awe that you’d think would attend such an event. Abbey deals in angry gods, powerful magic, dark and ominous legends, princes, princesses, spirits, wizards...and it all just lands with a thud. Only the hardiest of readers will feel compelled to follow this story through all its 462-page length. A great disservice both to Abbey’s fans and fantasy fiction as a whole.