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Dreams of the Compass Rose by Vera Nazarian

Published by Wildside Press

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

"Tell us a story."

Many of us have made our first acquaintence with tales of wonder through a family member, perhaps a grandmother or elderly aunt, telling us folktales before bed. Stories of magical cities and princesses and terrible curses that can only be broken through courage and self-sacrifice. Stories we learned to love through numerous retellings, maybe not quite the same every time depending on how much the teller felt like embellishing tonight.

Dreams of the Compass Rose stands firmly in the oral tradition. It opens with children begging their beleagured grandmother to tell them yet again a familiar story, to the point that in her irritation she begins to distort it, making it into a warning against trifling with magic. Yet the true tale takes on a life of its own and unfolds before our wondering eyes, taking us to a world not our own, a world where there really is a center and an edge, and in the heart lies the Compass Rose, an artifact of ancient beauty and magic.

Each chapter, or "dream" is a complete story of itself -- some of them have been previously published as short stories in other venues. Yet together they add up to a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, each story resonating with the others, adding new perspectives upon the events of earlier ones, to create a richness and depth very much like a collection of oral lore. Vera Nazarian invented the term "collage novel" for this work, distinguishing it from the fix-up in that there is no interstitial material added between the original stories to make the work complete. Each story can stand on its own and be a satisfying read, but together they form a greater whole

There are the stories of Nadir, the dark-skinned youth whose path crosses those of gods again and again. And beneath it lies a far older and darker story, that of the mad monarch Cireive who built his empiristan upon blood and murder, only to be defeated at the end by the pain of his own childhood.

These are not stories to be read casually, like snacks grabbed in the haste of a day overfilled with activities. No, this is a world to be savored slowly, chewed upon in thought over hours and days of leisurely reading. Invest the time to sink into it, and prepare to be richly rewarded.

Review posted February 1, 2009

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