The first book in Michael Lawson's Toll trilogy, Night of the Change covers familiar sword and sorcery ground: a magical threat fed by the human lust for power leaves the fate of a land teetering on a knife's edge. An outnumbered band of loyalists determined to save the land and people they love set themselves against a rogue cadre of wizards and royal rebels, daring to
stand firm before the unimaginable powers of the few who would rule over all.
The good-versus-evil standard gets a twist here, though, as the faithful find they must deny the laws they have always sought to honor in order to protect the greater good.
The insurgents, meanwhile, begin to understand that chaos unchecked by some sort of restraining framework will leave them with nothing to rule.
Thousands of years ago, Hilan the Peacemaker set in place the Restraints and his
Flame to guard Toll against the abuse of rampant magic. After millennia of
wizards lording over the cowering masses of ungifted humans, a balance had been
struck. Now the Flame Lord Adna Toulon presides over those gifted with magic; in
Flame Hold, these are protected from the madness the onset of their gift can
bring on by careful training in the ways of the Restraints. The High Lord leads
the lords of the five holds, governing the more prosaic aspects of life in Toll.
This delicate balance is forever upset in a single night, when a rogue wizard
and a pretender to the High Lord's throne unleash an attack upon Hilan's Flame.
The Restraints put in place to temper the play of magic on the land are cast
into dangerous flux, and as the ten-year Gathering of the Lords approaches, the
rebels set their traitorous plans in motion. Neither side of the approaching
clash is blameless, and three sets of young lovers are caught up in the tangled skein of
Toll's fate: Eker Raum, a talented rogue wizard burning with the need to avenge
his father's madness and death, and the slave girl Sharu; the Flame Lord's
second, Mesur Vajeza, and the gifted healer witch Adriel Atul; and the heir to
the Danisian throne, Cateena Roo, and Kell-an, the adopted son of the Wolf of
Corl. As unfettered magic begins to rain death in the opening sorties of this
new war of wizards, these six will play integral parts in determining the future
of Toll, and they will be forced to choose between love and responsibility.
It is that focus on the double binds that personal affection and commitment
to a greater cause put on the story's main characters, as well as the
realizations that neither good nor evil is ever really absolute, that sets Night of the
Change above many of its neighbors on the fantasy shelves. Surprisingly
affecting romantic subplots enrich the novel's main storyline without becoming
too distracting. A stronger editorial hand red-penning the occasionally clumsy
unspoken asides (although most of the spoken dialogue feels natural),
double-checking some poor spelling choices, and
speeding up the narrative by stroking through sometimes repetitive
description would lift Night of the Change to the level of excellence its plot
potential hints at. As it is, this is still a worthy addition to the epic fantasy fan's library -- a great story (mostly) well-told.