NESFA Members' Reviews

coverThe White Tribunal

by Paula Volsky

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Bantam Spectra, 1997, $13.95, 390 pp

The first Volsky book I read, The Grand Ellipse, told of a race through most of the countries of an exotic world where there's just a bit of magic. The countries were each reminiscent of one of the major countries of 19th century Europe and environs, and it made an excellent tale, sort of across between Jack Vance and Jules Verne.

The White Tribunal is a court in Upper Hetzia charted with rooting out sorcery. It was established a century earlier after Upper Hetzia broke free of the control of a particularly nasty black sorcerer by killing him. The White Tribunal initially rid the country of his minions and allies, but, as such things will, took on an existence of its own and became the greatest power in the land, eclipsing both the old nobility and the king.

The Tribunal retained power by accusing its enemies of sorcery, killing them in the most abominable ways, and confiscating their estates.

The current head of the Tribunal, Gnaus liGurvohl, is the most zealous in generations and arrests and falsely condemns the High Landguardian liMarchborg and his sons, leaving only the youngest, a child, alive – and him in the grimmest prison in Upper Hetzia. I found the excellent story of Tradain liMarchborg's imprisonment and escape to be somewhat hard to take, but it was necessarily terrible – it was essential to the story that Volsky is telling and it was quite well done.

Young Tradain survives, and ten years later as a young man escapes with a talisman which allows him to summon one of the Presences which provide the energy for sorcery. He barters his future service for the power to ruin his father's killers.

Tradain's survival and detailed plan of vengeance is lovingly chronicled. Upper Hetzia, perhaps somewhat like some parts of 18th century Germany, is a fascinating country, and the denouement – the end of all the vengeance – is entirely satisfying. Again, this is a very Vancian book it is feel and theme, though it is in no respect an imitation.

Recommended. (And I'm going to keep on tracking down Volsky's work.)

See my reviews of other Paula Volsky books: The Grand Ellipse, The Wolf of Winter, The White Tribunal, Illusion

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