Like most modern epic quest fantasy, Gary Wassner's Gemquest: The Twins owes a debt to the late great J.R.R. Tolkien. The first in the Gemquest series and Wassner's first published novel, The Twins pays homage to the godfather of the genre by peopling (for lack of a more inclusive word) its world with familiar denizens - humans, elves, dwarves, and perhaps most importantly, sentient trees. The loss of the Ents indicated the degraded state of affairs in Tolkien's Middle Earth, much as the destruction of old-growth forests and rainforests points to the declining state of our all-too-real world's health. So it is with the Lalas in the world of Gemquest: the guardian trees are dying, and an entire world's survival is at stake.
Legend holds that the Lalas were brought to the world by the gods of Caradon. When they planted the golden seeds of the First tree, the Gem of Eternity was laid in the same soil so that the First grew up to hold the powerful and sacred Gem in its heart. Many have attempted to find the First, and with it the Gem of Eternity, but both remain safely enshrouded in the mists of legend. Now the Lalas are dying, and the world is threatened by the growing powers of Colton dar Agonthea, a twisted sorceror seeking to mollify his inner anguish by enshrouding the world in a darkness of his own making. The world-spanning network of Lalas is fragmenting as one by one the great trees and their Chosen, or human bond-mates, fall victim to the encroaching darkness. The Tomes of Caradon foretold this time, and in an ambiguous prophecy predicted that "Then what was one, will become two / And the quest for the gem will begin anew."
With little more than that ancient prophecy to guide him, Baladar, the Lord of Pardatha, has recovered the sole surviving heir to the throne of Gwendollen, a boy cast magically to him by a dying nursemaid. Baladar believes that this unconscious boy is the only hope of the world against the Dark Lord's evil intentions. So it is that Baladar calls for a gathering of the handpicked few who will act as the boy's guardians and teachers: an ascetic philosopher and his catlike Moulant companion; a baron's son, Chosen, adept in the arcane arts, always hiding his true nature behind a prodigal mask; and a female warrior who is the daughter of a queen, accompanied by her right-hand man. These three and their comrades are Called to protect and educate the young heir, but fate will gather up another special Chosen lad and a runaway adolescent dwarf on the journey to Pardatha, while human treachery will ultimately bring an elfin prince into the protective circle. When the Dark Lord and his servants of fear lay siege to the walls of Pardatha hoping to take possession of the Gwendollen heir, the weakened capacities of the Lalas and the resourcefulness of this small Called group are all that hold Colton dar Agonthea and his growing might at bay.
Gemquest: The Twins has all the elements readers expect in a good quest fantasy: ancient prophecy, the threat of universal domination by a force of darkness, a motley group of companions working for good, and a familiarly fantastic milieu. The only thing weakening the narrative is the lack of a firm editorial pen to correct the occasional incorrect verb tense or punctuation mark, and to suggest replacements for some overweeningly formal prepositions. Regardless, "Gemquest" shows promise, and most readers of The Twins will look forward to its sequel.