Fortress in the Eye of Time
C.J. Cherryh
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Get C.J. Cherryh's *Fortress in the Eye of Time* delivered to your door! Fortress in the Eye of Time

C.J. Cherryh
May 1995
568 pages
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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That C.J. Cherryh, winner of multiple Hugo awards, should make her home in so prosaic a place as Oklahoma seems incredible. Certainly the woman who can create such beautifully true worlds as the one in Fortress in the Eye of Time must live on an ethereal cusp between universes, or some such. Yet here she resides, as real as you or me, wielding a formidable talent that lets her imagine some of the best works the genre has seen.

Curled Up With a Good BookA ruined, shadowed fortress lies deep in the heart of the Marna Wood: Ynefel, once the life-filled stronghold of the Sihhe kings, now a crumbling castle inhabited by one man. Mauryl, centuries-old wizard, after helping the bloody Marhanen depose the Sihhe kings, retreated to self-imposed solitude within the walls of Ynefel, where the faces of the dead are set uneasily in stone. It is at Ynefel that Mauryl has been fighting a battle of which none except for one last wizard-turned-priest in all of Ylesuin is aware. Mauryl is the last line of defense against his old student, the murdered rogue-wizard Hasufin. Mauryl grows old and weak; Hasufin is gathering up otherworldly strength for a final, definitive assault on the world.

Mauryl's best hope is to call forth a Shaping -- a being drawn from air and shadow, a soul called back from death. Mauryl is a great wizard, but cannot escape his own doubt in the last instant of the calling. Because of his doubt, the Shaping is flawed, likely incapable of rising to the task for which it has been called: to defeat Hasufin. So it is that the lad called Tristen comes into the world, a young man sprung into being in the course of a night. He knows nothing but that he wishes to please the old man, an old man keenly aware of the shortcomings in the most important work of his life.

Mauryl teaches Tristen -- reading, writing, the merits of staying out of the rain and staying clothed. The ancient wizard gives the lad a Book, bidding him read it -- only Tristen's reading the book, Mauryl says, can forestall Mauryl leaving. No matter; Tristen cannot, for all he tries, read the writing in the Book, and what Mauryl has said comes to pass. Of a night, a purposeful Wind sweeps the towers of Ynefel, the old enemy come to do battle one last time with Mauryl. Tristen's mentor disappears, becoming another blind face in Ynefel's stone walls. Tristen runs, following the Road as Mauryl had warned him to do. Through Marna Wood, with only the shadow-bird Owl to keep him company on a flight that takes him far from the only home he knows, Tristen flees.

Obediently, Tristen follows the Road. It leads him straight to the gates of Hanas'amef, the Amefin stronghold where the royal heir of Ylesuin is spending a year of administrative trial. The less-favored of the king's two sons, Cefwyn has his hands quite full untangling the knotty mess the Asswyd family has made of their accounts. The folk of Amefin bear more goodwill to the Elwynim on their border than to the royalty of Ylesuin, and it shows in the stonewalling the prince has encountered. Adding to his difficulties is the sudden appearance of this enchantingly innocent young Tristen, who is at the same time dangerously, mysteriously connected to the wizardous Sihhe of Ylesuin's past.

Tristen and Cefwyn grow close, a problem given the current conservative nature of the most powerful religious sect in Ylesuin. It's a problem, too, given that the Elwynim, in whom a trace of Sihhe blood still runs, wait for the promised return of a Sihhe king, and that the Elwynim Regent, sonless, has offered Cefwyn the hand of his daughter in marriage to prevent civil war in Elwynor. The Marhanen have always been suspicious of one another, and an act of Amefin treachery brings the king to ambush in Emwy village in Amefin. Crowned on the battlefield, grieving his father, Cefwyn vows to find the king's murderers. As Tristen's warnings of Hasufin's ability to move that which wants to move in the world become more clearly true, Cefwyn will challenge tradition and orthodoxy to ally with the Elwynim Regent against Hasufin's rebel Elwynim agents. As the world teeters on the edge of falling to an ambitious, long-dead wizard, Tristen will find out the truth and horror of who he really is, winning the battle only if he can reconcile himself with that truth.

C.J. Cherryh is indisputably a fantasy master. If character is story, Cherryh is the queen of story, for her people are believable, knowable, and true. Once again, Cherryh portrays the almost impermeable solitude of the individual, drawn with chilling loneliness in the earliest parts of the novel. At once ancient and childlike, Tristen is perhaps Cherryh's most skillfully drawn character yet. Fortress in the Eye of Time is a triumph; what a thrill to expect more of the same from its author.

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