Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian
Published by Wildside Press
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
In this novel, Vera Nazarian takes us to a magical world where color is only a memory carefully preserved by magic after some mysterious disaster known as the falling of the rainbow removed ordinary color from the world. An entire guild exists dedicated entirely to preserving color through a set of globes, each containing a perfect color of light kept perpetually burning. From these precious samples artisans can take color and apply it to an object, giving it an illusion of the true color that has been lost.
However, the globe for white light has gone out at some time in the past, resulting in the loss of true white light. The guild is able to produce a simulacrum of white light by combining other colors, but it is known to be a woefully inadequate substitute for the real thing. And even the colors that have been carefully preserved can only be layered over objects, rather than suffusing them as color once did.
Into this strange world comes a mysterious woman with no memory of her past. Ranheas Ylir is a fighter out of necessity, having crossed the wastes where the weak and unarmed are naught but prey. Yet while she can kill without hesitation if self-preservation or the protection of her clients demand it, she is no bloodthirsty killer who enjoys sowing death and destruction. Rather, she draws a firm distinction between those who pose a threat and must be forcibly removed from circulation to protect the defenseless and those who have done no harm. Thus this young woman who can cut down a bandit without blinking an eye carefully avoids eating the flesh of animals on the grounds that they have done her no harm and thus do not deserve to die to sustain her when other sources of nourishment can be obtained.
From the wastes she comes to the beautiful but corrupt city of Tronaelend-Lis, where wealthy and powerful families strive and connive against one another in the manner of medieval Constantinople and Venice. Although there are hints that her roots lie within this city, and her skills could buy her a home in any of the wealthiest districts, she eschews the trappings of wealth and the ties by which they would bind her, instead remaining poor in the manner of a vagabond -- or perhaps in a manner reminiscent of the Christ or the Buddha, both of which eschewed personal possessions in order to better carry out their spiritual missions.
And the City, and particularly the Dirvan, the district or compound set aside for the particular use of the aristocracy, is a place which could use some spiritual moving and shaking. The Regent and Regentrix engage in cynical manipulation of the government, while the holy priests engage in various debaucheries with prostitutes under the belief that by plumbing the depths of sin they can purify and remake themselves.
While all this rot within threatens the City, it is also threatened from without by the powerful Lord Vorn of Qurth, And there are hints that the falling of the rainbow may not have been a final or absolute catastrophe, that if the proper circumstances were to come to pass, perhaps true color might not be so impossibly far away as all presume.
Vera Nazarian serves us up a rich and intricate story very different from the standard quest fantasy in which magic seems to exist primarily to produce big, flashy weapons that give their users lots of power but no real wisdom. Like her first novel, Dreams of the Compass Rose, it is to be taken in small bites, savored and contemplated over the passage of time, re-read several times in order to better appreciate the layers upon layers of meaning that have been worked into its lapidary prose. Like her more recent work The Duke in His Castle (which shares with it the rich symbolism of colors in the names of its various duchies), it is rich with erotic tension, yet always handled in a poetic fashion rather than becoming salacious or vulgar as it might have in the hands of a less subtle artist.
Review posted May 11, 2010.
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