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Paula Volsky

Paula Volsky is one of the best authors out there writing historical (or perhaps I ought to say, quasi-historical) fantasy. She builds incredibly complex and vivid worlds, and while description is definitely her strong point, she also creates excellent characters and has an exceptional sense of timing.

ILLUSION Illusion is a novel set in a Revolutionary France that never was; the aristocrats, or the Exalted, are those who once had magic in their blood. The system has fallen into disrepair, and as few of the Exalted retain magical powers, they content themselves with huge estates and thousands of serfs. Eliste's father is one of these. When she helps a revolutionary serf to escape from her father's rage, she has no idea that she will later travel to the decadent courts of the king, to the abject poverty of the streets, and beyond.

WOW. I stayed up well into the early morning finishing this one in one large gulp; the changing world of Eliste surrounds you, mesmerizing even when Eliste's situation is bleak and hopeless. If you know anything about the French Revolution, there are several very interesting parallels, and Volsky captures the frenzy of the Revolution extraordinarily well. Very, very, very highly recommended; possibly the best book I've read this year.


This is set in the same world as Illusion, a number of years after the Revolution. The situation parallels the Indian mutiny of English control, and is centered around Renille, a young aristocrat with native blood. He is sent by the embassy to spy on the new cult rising, but things don't turn out as he expects...

Not as richly built as Illusion, but nonetheless enjoyable.


Set in the same world as Illusion and Gates, but considerably more modern-- gas lights, trains, etc. Vonahr is on the brink of being attacked by Grewzland, which is a fanatical country trying to take over the world. In order to even have a chance against the Grewzian army, Luzelle Devaire, a Vonahrish lecturer and adventurer, must enter a mad king's race: the Grand Ellipse. The course runs across the world and back, and the reward for the first to return is a private audience with the king...who has an extremely valuable weapon called Sentient Fire.

This is an extremely enjoyable work, sharing certain similarities with Around the World in 80 Days; the customs of the different countries are exotic and convincing, and the characters (and a love triangle between Luzelle, her former fiancee, and a Grewzian officer-- all contestants in the race) and dialogue as good as ever.

I've also read The White Tribunal, which is a parallel of The Count of Monte Cristo, but sketchier than Gates, with a really weak ending. Nor do I recommend The Sorcerer's Lady, which is an earlier work with the beginnings of Volsky's love for elaborate politics. Unfortunately, the romance falls flat, as the main characters are, respectively, a helpless ninny and a stone wall. Her earlier works, particularly The Luck of Relian Kru, are also enjoyable, if a bit difficult to find.

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