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Book Review: New Moon by Midori Snyder

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I have to admit that I'm a sucker for trilogies. Give me a series of books that's going to be three books in length or longer and the chances of me buying them are far higher than if the story is only contained in one book. But it has to be in separate books; omnibus editions just aren't the same thing, because then it might as well just be one book.

However, extended series of books can also be one of the biggest sources of frustration for a reader. If, like me, you spend a lot of time browsing through used booked stores you can find yourself in the unenviable position of getting hooked on a series by purchasing volume one, only to find that the books have been long out of print and your chances of ever finding it are non-existent.

Such was the case with Midori Snyder's Oran Trilogy, New Moon, Sadar's Keep, and Beldan's Fire. It was first published in 1989 by one of the many mass market Science Fiction/Fantasy imprints in the United States. But by the time I picked up the first book, New Moon, the books were long out of print. Of course every bookstore and library I checked looking for the other two books would only have the first book in the series.
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Increasing my frustration was that I came across another of Midori Snyder's books, The Innamorati and thought it was brilliant. So I'm sure you can imagine my happiness when I discovered that a new imprint of Penguin, Firebird Books had recently reprinted the entire series in very affordable mass market paper backs. Of course I ordered all three books immediately. (I had lost my copy of New Moon, book one, years ago)

Now I had to hope that the books lived up to my expectations and memory. It had been around ten years since I had read New Moon and I could only hope that I would like it now as much as I did then. The other two books are a blank slate, so they only have to live up to my expectations generated by twelve years of hunting for them; so no pressure.

New Moon is set in the city of Beldane in the country of Oran. Oran is currently occupied by Silean troops who had been invited into the country by The Fire Queen to help her quell a rebellion. The thing is, Zorah, The Fire Queen, issued that invitation nearly two hundred years ago and still looks as if she is barely nineteen years old.

Prior to Zorah claiming absolute rule, the power of Oran was shared between four sisters who each represented one of the four basic elements; Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Together the four represented balance and formed what was known as the Queen's Knot. The four powers of the four queens ensured a balance of power between them and helped to control the forces of chaos.

When Zorah killed her three sisters and assumed control she guaranteed herself eternal youth by taking all the power for herself. She also took steps to ensure that nobody would ever rise up against her by having every child who contained even the slightest trace of elemental power, or the old magic as the people now refer to it, put to death. The only Orans aside from herself who were allowed power were those who had the ability to "read" the power signature of others and they were used to track down anybody with trace elemental power.

The city of Beldan swarms with children who have been abandoned by their parents rather than have it come back on them that their child was born with power. While the majority of them live in flocks, overseen by characters that make Fagin look like a model for Foster Care, Jobber lives an independent life in order to hide a secret. Dodging the guard, readers, and surviving on guile, Jobber's life was going along smoothly until it one day it all fell apart and she was revealed as a fire element with power to rival the Queen.

Not everyone agrees with the rule of Zorah, and she is starting to have troubles with her subjects. Part of the agreement she made with the Silean government was that Oran would pay for the presence of the occupying force. Silean nobility have bought up most of the countryside and Oran farmers have been reduced to tenants on land that had been in their families for generations.

High Silean taxes and years of bad crops have forced them to sell out and see their children become virtually slaves to the occupiers. Resentment has built over this, the killing of children with power, and the suppression of Oran beliefs in favour of the Silean Church until finally it has resulted in the formation of the New Moon, a rebel army.

At the time of New Moon the rebel army has been operating as a guerrilla force in the countryside. Raiding farms, robbing Silean merchants, and doing their best to rattle the nerve of the occupiers. But now they've moved their focus to Beldan, and for the first time stage an attack in the city that results in chaos and massacre. Silean cavalry attack innocent civilians and strike down anyone in their path, and Jobber's power goes out of control and she sets fire to a large chunk of the city.

The world Midori Snyder has created is on a technological level equivalent to Renaissance Italy. In fact the social structure of guilds, apprentices, and journeymen that she has created is quite similar to that time. The street people, kids, whores, and others speak a type of slang similar to Cockney, which easily distinguishes them from their "betters".

The characters, except maybe the Sileans who seem universally evil, are far more than one dimensional villains and heroes. Zorah, the Fire Queen, sounds completely convinced that what she did was for the good of Oran, and feels a genuine sense of betrayal towards her sisters for attacking her and forcing her to kill them. She also stands up to the Sileans to try and make the lives of her people easier, but since they don't give a damn about the Orans there is not much she can do because of the terms of their invasion agreement.

Everybody, from the smallest cameo to the main characters, are well enough described with a few sentences that they can be instantly visualized. Midori Snyder's talent for description comes across throughout the novel as we are able to "see" Beldan in our mind's eye.

New Moon, book one of Midori Snyder's Oran Trilogy, introduces us to all the main players and leaves us with a bunch of questions that have to be answered over the next two books. Are there three other strong elementals like Jobber representing Water, Air, and Earth, so that a new Queen's Knot can be formed and the power of Zorah overthrown? Will the Sileans go on the offensive and seek out the New Moon Army, and if so, what will the result be?

If the second and third books match up to the quality of New Moon, the Oran Trilogy will have been worth the ten year wait.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.