NESFA Members' Reviews

Alphabet of Thorn

by Patricia McKillip

Ace, 2004, ISBN 0-441-01130-6

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

The King of Raine is dead; his daughter, Tessera, is being crowned. During the celebrations surrounding the coronation , a young transcriptor in the royal library, Nepenthe, is given a book by a young mage in training at the Floating School. It's written in a strange alphabet none of the mages can identify, and Nepenthe is supposed to deliver it to the librarians for identification and translation.

Instead she keeps it, finding the thornlike alphabet strangely compelling. Both the young mage, Bourne, and another young transcriptor, Laidley, become concerned about her apparent obsession with the book and what she says is its apparently impossible history of an ancient king and his sorceror companion conquering kingdoms that flourished centuries after their deaths. They cannot persuade her to give it up, and cannot quite bring themselves to report her appropriation of it to either the mages or the librarians.

Meanwhile, Tessera, young, inexperienced, and until now not always attentive to her lessons in statecraft, is not overawing the nobles who have turned out for her coronation. Some of them are growing restless; there's a threat of rebellion; and Tessera continues to frustrate her most loyal advisors by seemingly aimless wandering. When the Sleeping King that guards Raine wakes to warn Tessera that the rebellion is not the real danger facing Raine, older and wiser heads are helpful, but it's the young people, with their loyalty and decency, as much as their underappreciated or not fully realized talents, that have to do the heavy lifting.


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