Thursday, June 14, 2007

Touched By Venom - Janine Cross




Touched By Venom
The Dragon Temple Saga – Book One
Janine Cross
Roc

Dark Fantasy

Life as a serf in the potter’s clan of Clutch Re has never seemed easy for Zarq. For a start, her name is traditionally male, and the people of her Clutch, a dragon estate ruled by a warrior-lord, hold tradition in very high esteem. Of utmost importance is The Temple of the Dragon, a body that rules all Clutches of the nation in a theocracy. Dragons are revered and cared for, from hatching to death. Each year, a festival takes place to induct new apprentices of the dragonmaster, and reaffirm those who already serve. The apprentices are publicly beaten with whips coated in sacred dragon’s venom. Some die, and some go mad from the venom’s effects; but those who survive are honored.

Competing with a young boy of her clan (not a good idea, since women are inherently inferior in this patriarchal society) Zarq manages to win a race and claim a whip. The first touch of venom on her bare hand burns her and causes infection. Her actions set off a chain of events that end with her father’s execution, her mother’s mental breakdown, and her sister, Waisi, being sold into sexual slavery. Zarq’s mother becomes obsessed with finding Waisi and rescuing her.

Unwelcome in their Clutch, Zarq and her mother travel. A convent of holy women, dedicated to serving old bull dragons that can no longer breed, shelter them. Several years in the convent change Zarq from the lost and confused nine-year-old she was to an angry young woman, tormented by past events. Close proximity to the dragons opens her eyes to new possibilities in life, and she determines to right old wrongs.

This is dark fantasy in every sense of the word. The world presented here is brutal. There are scenes of whippings, abuse, deaths, and female circumcision. Obviously, this is not a book for younger readers. The world building is incredibly detailed; the structure of society, the rules and strictures by which each person must live, the various classes of individuals, is consistent and complete. Zarq tells the story in first-person, and her travels and travails make for riveting reading. The final pages are and ending of sorts, but also, clearly, a beginning for the next volume. This novel is the excellent debut of a new voice in fantasy; and not one to be missed.

Rating: 8 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46079-0 (paperback)

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