Sunday, January 27, 2002

Review: "The Eyes of God" by John Marco

Though he's got at least three other books to his credit, I'd never read John Marco before I picked up "The Eyes of God" (DAW). Now, I may have to check out some of those earlier stories.

This hefty book starts out with a very Arthurian tone. In Liira, a new king has come to power - Akeela the Good he's called. He's a well-loved ruler, kind and generous with a desire to bring knowledge to the masses. Among his first official acts is to create peace with his country's long-time enemy, Reec. He and his champion, Lukien, the Bronze Knight, bring gifts to King Karis of Reec, but he has a gift of his own. He offers Akeela the hand of his daughter Cassandra to seal the peace.

Entranced by the princess' beauty, Akeela agrees to the marriage. But Lukien has also fallen under Cassandra's spell. The results are predictable to anyone familiar with the Arthurian legends.

Her love for Lukien is not the only secret Cassandra is hiding. She has a stomach cancer, one that will kill her unless Lukien can retrieve the mythic Eyes of God from Jador, across the desert. But when Lukien returns with one of the Eyes, the problems are only beginning.

Because of a curse on the amulets, Cassandra is doomed to never be looked upon by another human. To make matters worse, Akeela, stunned by the betrayal of Lukien and Cassandra and fueled by the power dreams of a jealous general, descends into madness. He embarks on a ruthless and single-minded mission to find the other Eye so that he can be with Cassandra again. The madness will lead him to the legendary land of Grimhold, and perhaps doom for all involved.

I used to relish the idea of 800-page reads like this one, but lately I've begun to dread them. In recent years, there's been a trend toward padding novels to bulk them up. That's not the case with "The Eyes of God." Every single word of Marco's tale serves to move the story ahead, quite an accomplishment in a novel this size.

Marco also manages to keep the tale on track, resisting the urge to get lost in a tangle of convoluted subplots. This story simply doesn't need them.

In the early going, I was a little disappointed with "The Eyes of God." It seemed to me that it was just going to be another retelling of the Arthurian legends - the good king betrayed by his queen and champion, the quest for the Holy Grail-like Eyes of God, the vision of a Utopian world destroyed by betrayal. But along the way, the story turns into much more. It's a classic tale of triumph and tragedy, well written with great depth of emotion.

As I was reading this novel, I had the feeling that I was reading something important. In 20 years, I wouldn't be surprised to hear Marco, and this book, mentioned alongside the icons of the fantasy genre.

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