9/20/13 – BOOK REVIEW OF ROB ROSS’s FANTASY NOVEL, JUGGLER’S BLADE
I usually don’t read fantasy but watched for Juggler’s Blade to be published because I knew it had won the fantasy silver prize in the Maryland Writers’ Association novel contest. Not only does the book jump off fast, but the beginning is worthy of literary fiction. The plight of Ian, the young protagonist, brings to mind Oliver Twist, Dickens’ lad born into a life of crime.
Ian is the child of a mythical underclass forced to live below ground, in fear of daylight, and to survive however possible. Raised by his showman uncle, young Ian preforms in taverns as a juggler. Without realizing it, Ian alters the trajectory of a spinning blade to keep his juggling act perfect. His uncle understands what has happened and knows what it means: Ian is Accursed. Afraid that someone else might have detected the blade’s path altered in flight, the uncle flees with Ian, the boy still naïve to his power. But Jolland appears to them and explains to Ian that she and he are D’Natai, with the ability to manipulate natural forces. She is a Shade, able to control shadows, while Ian is a Prod, able to move objects. Unfortunately, in the lands of Lodric, D’Natai are considered cursed and are hunted and enslaved by Lodric’s rulers, the immortal Heralds of the Dawn. As Ian and his uncle and Jolland flee in fear, they are pursued by Isidore, Postulant of the Heralds. Isidore burns alive Ian’s uncle, who sacrifices himself so Ian can escape.
Jolland brings Ian to the Capitol and introduces him to a group of young D’Natai. Because the urban fantasy world of the Capitol is closely policed by the Heralds, the young D’Natai live in hiding in the sewers and survive as thieves. Led by Della, a Press with the power to increase gravity, the group includes Lilith, a solitary Shade; Rut, a charismatic Chill who can redirect cold; and Roone, a gentle giant of a boy who, like Della, is a Press. Ian undergoes brutal training, learning to fight and thieve and to use his magical power.
While Isidore and fellow-Herald Salazar (who rules the Temple where Accursed are imprisoned) search for Ian and his kind, we, as readers, detest the Heralds for being villains yet savor them as fictional characters. They are evil to Ian and his class, yet like many well-drawn villains, they are fun for readers in a feisty way similar to Greek and Roman gods. Ian comes to grips with his own magical ability to move objects or alter their course during movement, but he must learn to survive without using it—except when no choice exists. And even then his magical ability may not be enough. “How do you kill an Immortal?” Ian asks, remembering the sight of an Immortal pulling a nail out of her skull. “Or, more specifically, how do you kill them so that they stay dead?”
Ah, haven’t we all faced this problem? Someone you would love to never see again quits your tennis club, and you think you’re rid of him. A month later he hollers, “Hi, neighbor!” as a moving van backs up to the recently sold house next to yours.
In Juggler’s Blade, Rob Ross gives us a story that’s fun and leaves us set up for the second of the Juggler’s trilogy, in which mindless predators, the Sha’Karah—a threat to the ruling Heralds—develop consciousness in the wastes outside the Capitol. I thoroughly enjoyed Juggler’s Blade, and I’m already curious to see who I’ll root for between the Sha’Karah and the Heralds in the sequel.