Friday, March 7, 2003

Niamh and the Hermit by Emily Snyder


Arx Publishing, 1889758361, $14.95



Princess Niamh (pronounced Nee-EHV) is perhaps the greatest beauty of the Twelve Kingdoms, one whose loveliness radiates within and without so strongly that nobody in Castell Gwyr is able to appreciate it. Potential suitors have either died or gone mad at the slightest exposure to Niamh, leaving everyone in the kingdom of Maelgwynn, including King Gavron, to wonder how Niamh will be able to take a husband and keep alive the line of Siawn Shieldbearer.



The most logical solution to this problem comes to prove that opposites do indeed attract when it is suggested that Niamh be betrothed to a mysterious healer. Known only as Duncan, the bridegroom is a hermit with the head and tail of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. How or when Duncan came to be so enchanted (hexed?) is a mystery, though Gavron and the kingdom are relieved when Duncan accepts the offer of marriage. That there is true love evident between Niamh and her Hermit during a clandestine meeting should have bolstered the pending celebration, were it not for the presence of evil lurking about the kingdom.



Still nursing the loss of his son to Niamh's beauty, an avenging Count steals into the bride's chamber and convinces Niamh of a method to lessen her beauty in order to allow others to tolerate her presence. What happens instead is a physical transformation so radical that Niamh's parents mistakenly cast the horrid creature they discover out of the castle, unaware that they have expelled Niamh. No thanks to the Count's interference, Niamh's inner beauty is also deeply scarred, leaving fear and shame to take her on a journey through the far realms of the Twelve Kingdoms. Search parties are dispatched, and along with them goes Duncan to reclaim the bride who, having lost all happier memories, is reduced to being an "ashputtle girl," surviving by what wits are left.



Niamh and the Hermit is a rich narrative of various subplots which intertwine together to offer the reader a vivid look at author Snyder's gift for world-building: there are the courageous guards of Castell Gwyr, whose adventures beyond Maelgwynn are reminiscent of Tolkien's stories; loyal handmaid Elowen, who prizes Niamh's life above her own, and the troubled Hermit, whose inner demons prove to be more of a challenge than those preventing his destiny. The interworkings of fantasy and faith seamed nicely into the story.



The influences of Eddings, Lewis, and other writers of the genre are evident in Snyder's style, though Niamh is uniquely her own, an ambitious debut and highly recommended to fans of fanciful tales.

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