Of Swords and Spells
by Delia Marshall Turner
(Del Rey, $5.99) ISBN 0-345-42432-8
*****
Some books loudly proclaim their brilliance with every page. Well, Of Swords and Spells by Delia Marshall Turner wasn't one of those books. Instead, it quietly sneaked its way into my heart. The realization that I absolutely adored it dawned only after some time had passed.

Certain elements of the style and plot in Of Swords and Spells reminded me of the best of fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones. With an engaging narrator, fast paced story, and a delightfully twisting plot, Turner presents readers with a superb tale of magical adventure on an inter-planetary scale.

Though featuring a completely different set of characters in a completely different setting, Of Swords and Spells is a sequel to Turner's debut fantasy novel, Nameless Magery. In the first book, a young woman from a technologically advanced planet crashed on a world with a to her mind primitive understanding of magic.

Of Swords and Spells takes the reader "off-planet" into the worlds of those other spacefaring peoples. These Thousand Worlds are united by a magic Web, the use of which requires witches. But now the Enforcers have created a black-matter Web which not only duplicates the communication functions of the magic Web, but actually destroys magic. And since this black-matter Web isn't dependent on witches, they are being systematically hunted down and wiped out on any technicality.

This is where our first-person narrator, Malka, comes in. Since her escape from slavery, she's been jumping from planet to planet and staying one step ahead of not only her feared master, but the Web Witchfinders. On her latest desperate flight from the Enforcers, she falls in with a group of witches led by a Monitor, an android created a long time ago to check the Enforcers. Roder Massim, the android with the sad eyes and sweet smile, is puzzled by, intrigued with, and attracted to Malka and slowly gains her trust and draws her out. In the process, though, he hastens some mysterious and frightening change within Malka.

The puzzle pieces of Malka's fiercely guarded nature are only slowly revealed. Malka is one tough character. Though she is hunted as a witch, she claims she's not one. In fact, all apparent evidence to the contrary, she denies that she is even human. She is clearly extraordinary, but full of self-deprecating charm. You can't help but root for her fierce courage, as fearful as she is at being chased by Enforcers, discovered by her master, or uncovered by her new-found companions. In fact, Malka becomes a key part of this tiny band of heroes who will attempt to save a planet from being wiped out by Enforcement.

Why is Malka growing so fast it is almost visible? Why does she appear as a blank spot in the current of magic? What is her true age? She keeps noticing that she's changing, but into what? The surprises about Malka's nature and identity keep coming so fast, that the book demands nothing less than complete interest. The seamless blending of adventure, magic, and romance in Of Swords and Spells make it a keeper. It's a clever story with a big heart. More, please!

--Preeti Singh


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