Orbit: Hachette. Jan. 2014. 450p. ISBN 9780316220101. pap. $17. FANTASY
A thousand years after the fall of Rome, Europe has redeveloped a civilization that allows for the flow of trade among states (when not engaged in war), easier methods of farming, the preservation of knowledge, and time for occasional celebrations—all owing to the magic that is controlled by the powerful, secretive hexmasters. A few people, however, have noticed signs that magic is fading: unicorns have disappeared almost entirely from the forests, and the hexmasters are no longer approachable. The future of the Palatinate of Carinthia may lie in the knowledge possessed by a novice magic user, an unassuming librarian, and a Jewish scholar and his educated, independent-minded daughter, particularly when the water stops flowing, the lights go out, and enemies make good their threat of war.
VERDICT Morden (The Lost Art; "Metrozone" series) has created a version of the Middle Ages caught in the transition from magic to science. Vividly drawn characters, a compassionate understanding of medieval daily life, and the ability to combine action scenes with domestic and philosophic interludes make Morden's latest novel both an entertaining journey and a learning experience.
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