the Little Red Reviewer

The Diviner, by Melanie Rawn

Posted on: May 8, 2013

The DivinerThe Diviner, by Melanie Rawn

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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Whatever you expect this book to be, or to be about, it isn’t. The blurb on the back is fairly useless, making it sound like an action packed revenge story with some magic. I’ll give it that, it is a revenge story, and there is some magic. But at the core, The Diviner is the story of a family who was nearly destroyed, and instead, irrevocably changed the world.

Long review short, Melanie Rawn’s The Diviner is so full of awesome that I don’t even know where to start talking about it. Complex and sprawling, subtle yet epic, The Diviner offers stunning world building, an elegant magic system, and characters who I swear I just spent an endless summer with.  Doesn’t hurt that Rawn’s writing style is poetic yet purposeful, layered like sheer silks that shift and billow in the breeze, offering momentary glimpses of a larger pattern.

The Diviner is all about the details – details that support other details, that are required to make something else work, yet like a cathedral or a fractal, the complexities blend into the background at first blush.  There’s so much I want to touch on, that trying to review this book is like trying to review Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. It would be so much easier if this review could just consist of “you have to read this book!” over and over again until I reach 800 words.

Spanning four generations, the pacing of The Diviner is very fast, but the point of the book requires that time pass quickly. When months or years pass between chapters, we’re often given a passage written by a chronicler who has documented what happened. The chroniclers are just one more subtle architectural detail, it’s easy to see they each have their own style but were trained in the same school. This method of showing the passage of time may not work for all readers, but I found it refreshing and enjoyable.

This review might give away a number of plot points, but I assure you that I haven’t even begun to touch the best surprises the book has to offer.

Once upon a time, in the city of Dayira Azreyq, the ruler Sheyqa Nizzira decided to rid herself of her enemies once and for all. Through poison, assassination, fire, and open murder, she found every al Ma’aliq in her realm.  But one young man, Azzad al Ma’aliq, a wastrel playboy, survived, as he was too busy climbing out his mistress’s bedroom window to be in the path of the assassins.  A wanted man, he flees into the desert where he is saved by the Shagara, a mysterious desert clan. Determined to avenge his family, Azzad humbles himself  before the Shagara and slowly earns a place with them.  They’d be happy to be rid of this ignorant city boy, except for an unexpected and funny event (completely not what you think) that binds him to the clan. Azzad bides his time, and plots sweet revenge.

As the years pass, Azzad beings to acquire his fortune, marries, has children, and starts to understand the Shagara secrets. Through him, knowledge of cities and politics and empires quietly infects the Shagara, slowly but inevitably forcing them towards cultural shifts.

The point of view then shifts to Azzad’s son, Alessid. Torn from his father at an early age, and fed conflicting stories about  Azzad’s youth, Alessid vowes to complete his father’s quest for revenge. Like everyone, Alessid sees what he wants to see, and he sees his father as a weakling who failed to properly avenge his family. The manipulative Alessid promises to be nothing like his father, and that at least, is one promise he keeps.

The Chroniclers make Alessid out to be the ideal leader: strong, driven, inspiring, deserving of respect. As in the case of many historical biographies, the man they write about isn’t quite the man who actually lived.    Props again to Rawn, for making me love certain characters instantly, and just as quickly feel conflicted about others. We don’t get to spend much time with any one person, but the author never lets up on the sheer quantity of sophisticated characterization invested in every sentence.

Soon again, a point of view switch, this time to Alessid’s grandson Qamar. Qamar takes after his great grandfather Azzad in all the ways that matter, and he’s the one  with the potential to finally see Azzad’s dream come to fruition, however in a direction that his family could never have foreseen.

It’s amazing how hard we fight to not be like our parents, isn’t it? We may have free will, but there’s no escaping genetics.

 The Diviner is a character driven story, but Azzad, Alessid, even Qamar would be nothing without the magic of the Shagara.  It was the magic system that brought this book to a whole new level for me. I’ve come across magic systems that are somewhat similar to what Rawn offers, but the way she presents it and connects the magic system to location and family and culture and then shows it as it evolves as generations pass  was truly impressive. I’m loathe to even call it magic, as that word implies something mysterious and unfathomable. The Shagara who have the talent understand very well what they are and what they are supposed to do, and their curse brings them honor in the clan. This isn’t an easy talent to live with, it has heavy costs and requirements, and not just from the person making the protective items.

the golden keyI’m nearly bursting to tell you more but if I did I’d be spoiling the entire point of the book. Just do yourself a favor, and go read it so we can talk about it. Even if you read it and don’t like it, I’d still love to discuss it with you.

If Melanie Rawn’s name, or the world in the book sound familiar, it’s because The Diviner is a prequel to The Golden Key, written in 1996 with Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson. Having read only The Diviner, I am now determined to read The Golden Key.

In the Author’s Note at the end, Rawn mentions her years of studying history. She apologizes to her professors for the use she’s put her history education towards. But you know what? Reading this, I had no idea if I was reading straight up fantasy, or if I was reading historical fiction. I was waiting to get to the end and learn in her Author’s Note how she was inspired to write about Azzad al-Ma’aliq after seeing his tomb somewhere in Morocco or something, or reading an illuminated manuscript about him.  No such luck, it’s all fantasy, he wasn’t a real person and neither are the Shagara.  Still, her history professors should be nothing but proud.

 

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6 Responses to "The Diviner, by Melanie Rawn"

Rawn’s name is familiar to me not because of the books you mention, but because of her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies, both of which I enjoyed when I read them years ago. I also have the first volume of The Exiles, unread. Have you read any of them?

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No, not yet. Until I picked up The Diviner I’d only read one or two of her short stories. Really liked The Mother of all Russiya, which was in Lightspeed last year.

How has she been writing all this time and I didn’t know who she was? Tell me more about Dragon Prince and Dragon Star! :)

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Make that the first TWO volumes of The Exiles (just checked shelves).

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Wow, if it’s this full of awesome I will have to add it to the list! (Which is becoming quite an overwhelming thing on it’s own.)
Lynn :D

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This was an interesting read. No one plot, unless you count the slow development of a magic system plot. It followed several generations and was the abbreviated history of a people. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. Some of the histories come close, but because they were real, they had more detail. An inventive and original work.

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The only part I found magical and charming was the first 1/3rd of the book. Second part was very depressing. Third part was interesting to read but a bit drier, I don’t know. There seemed to me to be very little to no romance about the marriage in that part, though obv. they loved each other, and the ending was pretty depressing as well – though looking at religion all over the world, very realistic as well. Azzad is the best!

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