The Taste of Lightning
by Kate Constable
Published by Allen & Unwin
288 pages, 2007
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Kate Constable’s Chanters of Tremaris trilogy presented a well-realized universe in which magic was divided into individual types: fire, ice, earth, animals and such All of this magic was sung -- or, rather, chanted -- and only the heroine, Calwyn, the Singer of All Songs, could practice more than one kind. There were a lot of countries which she didn’t actually visit in the course of the series, but which the reader might well have wished to see.
In The Taste of Lightning, we get our wish. We are back in the world of Tremaris, about 20 years after the events of The Tenth Power, the last story in the original trilogy, and in a different part of the world. Here, magic -- or chantment, as it is known on Tremaris -- is not actually practiced, although a woman called Wanion, known as the Witch-Woman, is terrifying everyone by making them believe she can practice sympathetic magic. She can’t, but she knows something which will enable her to control those who can do magic if allowed to continue. She has her own, very good, reasons for wanting to have control over Skir, the young Priest-King of Cragonlands.
Skir, a laundry-maid called Tansy, and a soldier called Perrin flee together, with a number of pursuers after them. Skir is a sort of lama, of the kind who’s been recognized as someone’s reincarnation and taken to a temple to rule the faithful of that particular religion. The trouble is, the Priest-King is supposed to be able to practice ironcraft magic and he just can’t. He has been held as a hostage by Baltimar, the country at war with his own, but now his life is in danger, not only from the country holding him hostage but from a country called Rengan, which has its own agenda and reasons for wanting him dead. As a baby, Skir was hit by lightning and survived. This is significant, but we don’t find out why until nearly the end, when Skir learns who he actually is. When he gets home to the temple, he is not as welcome as he might have thought he would be, and he also discovers -- eventually -- why he can’t practice ironcraft despite of all his efforts, and it isn’t only to do with himself.
As in the original trilogy, the main characters are likeable, the females are strong and Tremaris is still a believable world. There are ordinary soldiers rather than fantasy-universe warriors, and like soldiers everywhere they swear, though Constable has created her own swear-word, frug; she allows her readers to work out what that probably means, as in Red Dwarf’s swear-word smeg. If you have read the Chanters of Tremaris series you will be pleased to realize that one of the characters in this one was a main character in the original trilogy, though now an adult, many years older. You also find out what happened after Calwyn’s success, and it’s something that might have been predicted if the reader had thought about it, and not necessarily happily ever after.
There is plenty more that can happen in this world. The story doesn’t end on a clffhanger, but there are still plenty of things we don’t know at the end of it, and there is a strong possibility that there will be more novels to answer the questions raised at the end of this one.
Those who have read the orignal trilogy will fall comfortably back into this universe. If you haven’t read it, you should still enjoy this, but why not go back and find out how it all started?
As with the Chanters of Tremaris series, The Taste Of Lightning should appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce. | February 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.