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Bradley, M.Z.
book-date: 1978
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Michael Whelan

A crop of Whelan's original cover painting is inside framing artwork by Richard Hescox (which was used on many covers to give a "standardized" look to the series.)

One of the best "Darkover" novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Stormqueen!. Bradley wrote books in her "Darkover" series throughout her career - this was a particularly rich world and backstory which often brought out her best work. As with Norton's "Witch World" or McCaffrey's "Pern" sequences, I feel there is a core of best works which should be read in preference or before other parts of the series - this is from the top of that list. Don't try to read by internal chronology (especially don't start with Darkover Landfall.) This would be a good place to start reading the series - I place it as my 2nd favorite "Darkover" book, and on my "top 100" list. Strongly recommended / I wll cheerfully sell as many nice copies of this book as I can find.

This takes place early in the series, during "the Ages of Chaos; the time before the Comyn had firmly established an alliance of their 7 great houses to rule over the Domains; and also the height of the Towers." This is before the Terran Empire had re-established contact, and all memory of Terran settlement is lost - replaced by Darkovan mythology. We are introduced to this world through Donal Rockraven, who has a minor laran power: stormsense. With it, he can fly for hours in his glider, able to sense the lines of electricity and magnetism in the air - and sometimes call or direct lightning. His mother, Aliciane, has become barragana to Lord Mikhail of Aldaran, and her child will become heir to Aldaran. The leroni at Hali had tried to breed storm control into the Rockraven line, but gave it up because it was too dangerous. Aliciane died in childbirth, leaving behind a daughter, Dorilys - who showed signs of strong laran by affecting storms before her birth, and shocking a caretaker within hours of her birth.

[…Eleven years later, and in the central domain of Darkover…] Allart Hastur of Elhalyn had renounced his heritage as descendant of gods, and was in training to be a monk at Nevarsin, the city of Snows - a cristoforo. The laran gift that Allart was fleeing was the ability to see the future - all possible futures. Paralyzed by too many choices, fearful of making the wrong one - Allart learned control of himself at Nevarsin. Then the day came when he realized he could no longer see himself at Nevarsin, and the fact that he could not see any future here meant that the outside force was not something he could choose to deny. His father has come to reclaim him, with the news that Allart is within 4 places from the throne of Hastur - and the king is in his eightieth year. In furtherance of Hali's plans to breed for laran and fixing the ability for forsee future into the Hastur line without the instability which killed his brother, Allart is to be wed to Cassandra Aillard, and also to father sons on her 2 nedestro sisters. Despite his reservations, Allart goes with his father, but bearing a new vision of his father dead in a room which Allart has never been in - but could describe in detail. All too soon his father dies, and Allart swears fealty to his brother-and-rival, Damon-Rafael, who has ambitions to be king - sooner, if possible.

At age eleven (and looking fifteen), Dorilys heir of Aldaran was pampered, spoiled, and sulky. Loved by her father and foster-mother, she is feared by servants and children: for when Dorilys was angry, hungry, or in pain - lightnings and thunders crashed about the heights of the castle. Donal looks out for his half-sister, but worries about "what will happen if she does not learn that she cannot have all things as she will." Dorilys is handfasted to Darren of Scathfell, the son of Mikhail Aldaran's younger brother - with terms to the agreement meant to protect Dorilys, but that the Scathfells find unreasonable and insulting. During the celebration after the handfasting, seeing only Dorilys' apparent maturity, Darren attempts to consumate the marriage early - only to be killed by lightning out of a clear sky when attention-drunk Dorilys defends herself from an attack she doesn't understand. This causes a rift between Lord Aladaran and his brother, with the brother claiming war between them.

Donal Rockraven is sent to the main Domains to seek a Tower-trained expert - someone to help Dorilys gain control over her developing powers before they destroy her or others near her. Donal is intercepted by agents of Damon-Rafael, and because it suits his plans, he sends his brother Allart as an envoy to try to keep Aldaran out of any war or struggle for the throne that Damon-Rafael seeks. Sent with him is Renata Leynier, a Tower-trained monitor who is to teach Dorilys. Lady Renata soon finds that she is overmatched in power by Dorilys - she has to resort to tricks and and her Tower reputation to keep Dorilys from realizing this.

I've tried to give enough details to show that Bradley's Darkover is richly textured and well thought out. There is a sense of inevitable tragedy, or watching a train-wreck happen as the story advances and develops into war using laran on either side. One of Bradley's intents is to show how terrible war using laran can be - to show why the Compact that limited weapons on Darkover was developed. In my opinion, the method of sketching out a future-history and then writing about the parts that most interest the author will produce some really good fiction - especially when you think in terms of the old curse: "may you live in interesting times."

Just to show I am not alone with a high opinion of this book, here's a short review by Charles N. Brown (of LOCUS fame):
"I am happy to be able to recommend without reservation her newest book in the series, Stormqueen! It's an extremely long book, but, in this case, the more the better. Bradley has fully integrated background, philosophy, and plot in a novel second only to her superb Heritage of Hastur in this excellent series. [Review in Isaac Asimov's September-October 1978.]