Most of you are probably familiar with C. J. Cherryh, three time Hugo award winner. She's written innumerable novels, yet perhaps the Fortress series is one of the most prominent. With the final volume published recently, now's a good time to consider reading the series.
Ancient, dying wizard Mauryl Gestaurien produces one final grand spell in an effort to defeat rival sorcerer Hasufin Heltain, who just won't stay dead. That final spell is a Shaping, and created from the flames is Tristen, our hero. To Mauryl's surprise and frustration, however, Tristen is an absolute innocent. Although he is an adult, he is childlike in every way, amazed the first time he sees rain or touches a hot candle. When Mauryl dies, Tristen flees the ancient, haunted castle and discovers the world, on quest to learn who he is, what he can do, and why others fear him.
Tristen is a unique and well-portrayed character. Although he begins as an extremely naïve and trusting character, his development is painstakingly crafted throughout the novel, and in the series as a whole. It's a considerable task to describe a character who begins almost as an infant, yet Cherryh does an admirable job. There's more to Tristen than just that, however. We're also puzzled by some mysteries concerning his true nature. Is he Mauryl's magical heir? Or perhaps a resurrected Sihhe lord from the distant past? The future is also intriguing, as we can't help but wonder if he'll become a King in his own right. But then what about King Cefwyn, his closest friend to whom he's sworn fealty?
As interesting as Tristen is, Emuin, a surviving wizard and Mauryl's former pupil, is often irritating. Basically, he's the fantasy equivalent of Mr. Spock in that he is the source of information whenever our hero needs it, and basically serves to explain various things to the reader. To compound the problem, he's maddeningly fickle about when he answers Tristen's questions, and when he doesn't.
Another excellent point about the book is the excellent use of magic. Mauryl and the other wizards learn magic the traditional way, as one might learn to play the piano. Tristen however, is utterly natural, such as the piano might have been for Mozart. Furthermore, we're blessed with innovative and clever new ideas concerning magic. Like Unfolding, where Tristen suddenly learns as skill, such as sword-fighting, which he has never seen before. Or perhaps the Gray Space, where wizards can communicate which each other over great distances. It's apparent Cherryh has put some serious thought into implementing her magic system, and it works seamlessly.
Although it may seem insignificant, sometimes the names in a book are essential to a fantasy feel. Names with mysterious tones, or beautiful sounds often go a long way towards creating a surreal world. 'A Fortress in the Eye' of time handles names wonderfully, as beautiful names such as 'Amefel' and 'Ivanor' bring back memories of Tolkien. However, these names sometimes go beyond the realm of fantastical, to downright baffling. It's sometimes a little difficult to stay in a fantasy state of mind when you have to stop and stumble over names like 'Ninevrise' or 'Inarreddin'. Still, this is really a stock problem in the entire fantasy genre. So saying, it's obvious a lot of thought has gone into naming both characters and locations, and as odd as it may seem, it's integral in creating an excellent atmosphere.
Another disappointing part of the book was the maps. Usually, maps in fantasy novels are beautifully crafted, and serve to create a mental image of the world we're reading about. The 'Wheel of Time' for example, has wonderfully detailed and drawn maps, which serve to better our understanding of events and implications. In the 'Fortress' series, the maps are simply hideous. In fact, in 'Fortress in the Eye of Time', there's only one, and it's completely useless. It shows places not even mentioned in the book, while at the same time ignoring several key locations, such as the Marna Wood, where Mauryl's castle is.
These small problems aside, 'Fortress in the Eye of Time' is an engaging novel. Tristen's discoveries and potential are fascinating, and the book will have you staying up late, turning page after page.