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Having been captivated by the first two parts of the Percheron trilogy, "Odalisque" and "Emissary", I was eagerly awaiting the third and final part, "Goddess". Fiona McIntosh has created a world full of intriguing characters and having written the first two parts like a chess game, the end game was irresistible.
We pick up the story approximately three months after the events of "Emissary". Zaradine Ana, the wife of the Zar of Percheron, has been captured in the desert whilst travelling to the neighbouring state of Galinsea in an attempt to prevent war. Her captor, Arafanz, is determined to keep her safe as he and his army believe she is vital in the fast approaching war between the gods, believing her to be the incarnation of the goddess Lyana.
Spur Lazar, who is head of the Zar's army, but also vital to the Galinseans, sets out across the desert in an attempt to rescue Ana. He too believes that she is vital in the struggle between the gods, but she is also vital to him in a far more personal way. Travelling with him are the Zar himself and the Grand Vizier, in who lives the demon Maliz, who is to be Lyana's opponent in their battle. Maliz is confident of victory, believing he has already despatched Lyana's messenger Iridor. This, in turn, has also upset Lazar, as the human version of Iridor, Pez, was a very close friend of his.
They all wish to save Ana for their own reasons, but there are other concerns back at home. The Galinseans have made good their threat to invade Percheron and the Zar's mother, Herezah, has been left behind as Crown Valide to try and broker peace. It seems that there could be a war between the regions to match the war between the gods, with the best person to stop them both being nowhere close at hand.
This makes it sound like there is an awful lot going on and, believe me, there is far more to it than this. McIntosh builds a story like she's making a lasagne out of it - there is layer upon layer of things that are tasty enough in their own right, but when you put them all together and heat it up, the whole is simply mouth watering. Indeed, this is an even larger helping than there was before, as whilst the political intrigue of those in the palace and the underlying beginnings of the war between the gods was present in the first two parts of the trilogy, McIntosh has added the extra story of the Galinsean threat to the mix and has fitted it in so beautifully it's as if it was always there.
As if this wasn't enough, the story had so many twists and turns that it was almost dizzying. Part of the tale mentioned the Samazen - a desert wind that swirls and makes it impossible to see what is in front of you. Parts of the story were written in much the same fashion. Maliz especially was always on the move, looking to improve his position and status for the battles to become. Even when I thought we'd heard the last of him at one point, he still had some moves left in his portion of the game, most of which were completely unexpected.
However, it's not just Maliz who is making moves in unexpected ways, although he is the one who seems to be thinking more steps ahead of everyone else. As is usual for McIntosh, there is intrigue and action and jostling for position, both actual and political, in every turn. As is also usual for McIntosh, it's almost a chess game, but it's as beautifully choreographed as any dance and it's so difficult to tear your eyes away from, to the extent that I was very short on sleep for the few days I was reading the book.
McIntosh plays to all her strengths here, once again. She has created such vivid characters that you can't help but become involved in their story. It is obvious where the reader's sympathies are supposed to lie although for the first time there are characters who aren't quite so obviously on one side of the line between good and bad. For the first time, the situation is manipulating some of the characters in much the same way as the characters are trying to manipulate events and each other and it's a delightful change of pace.
If there is a slight down side to the book, it's that the ending seems a little rushed. Admittedly, everything came together and even the ending had some final twists that I hadn't expected and hadn't seen coming, which made the whole thing incredibly enjoyable, but the final confrontations that the whole trilogy was seemingly building up to seemed to be over remarkably quickly. Still, McIntosh has written the whole trilogy like a chess match and check to checkmate is only one move, so perhaps it is more in keeping with what has gone before than is immediately apparent.
"Goddess" is not the place to be starting with this trilogy, as there is far too much that has gone before to be able to follow it as a newcomer, but it's certainly a fitting end to what has been a wonderful trilogy. If you've read any of the previous books, this is not to be missed, especially at prices from as little as £2.99 from the Amazon Marketplace, although in this case, it's so good that the Amazon and Play price of £5.99 still seems like decent value. Any fans of Trudi Canavan, Kate Elliott and Karen Miller should take a look at Fiona McIntosh and anyone who is already aware of her is going to have to wait impatiently for her next book, as to know her work is to love her work.
This is a slightly amended version of a review which has previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk