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Lens of the World


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Raised as a ward of the Sordaling military academy and apprenticed--almost by happenstance--to a master of optics, the orphan Nazhuret embarks upon his life's journey with little to recommend him, except for his ability to see clearly the path he must follow. Deceptively slow in its pacing, MacAvoy's latest novel, the first in a new fantasy series by the author of the Damiano trilogy, patiently and persistently describes the progress of a young man destined by fate to be a hero. Enticing in its careful world-building and graceful writing, this fantasy is highly recommended.

YA-- In this, the first volume of a fantasy series, MacAvoy does not merely set the stage, hint at a plot to be unveiled later, or tease readers with suggested themes. Instead, she presents a fully developed novel that preserves interesting territory to be explored in the future. The plot crosses the classic quest fantasy with the bildungsroman, and the novel is composed in the epistolary style. Nazhuret, a child seemingly without family, is the ward of a military school for the sons of nobility. As an adolescent, he finds himself propelled into a weird relationship with the mysterious Powl. Their meeting is a memorable set-piece worthy of Poe. Nazhuret's re-education under Powl involves trials to make the most hardworking student shudder. At the end of it, Powl sends Nazhuret into the world, a kind of beggar/philosopher, a lens-grinder on tour. It is here that MacAvoy's intent becomes clear, because Nazhuret is indeed, for readers, the lens of the world, the optic through which they see the mysterious, shifting ambiguities that create a reality. This is a plot and a theme and a character so rich that revelations would be unforgivable. Add to these one of the most surprising supporting characters and plots in years and a fantasy setting that is always intriguing but never intrusive and you have a book that readers won't want to end. --Cathy Chauvette, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

In the absorbing, realistic world depicted in this first volume of a projected series, MacAvoy ( The Book of Kells ) introduces Nazhuret who, looking back from middle age, tells of the adventures of his youth. Half-student, half-servant in the military Royal School of Sordaling, where he appears short and ugly to his tall Velonyan companions, Nazhuret is forced out at age 20. He is taken on by Powl--a mysterious individual learned in arts such as astronomy, war and languages--who teaches Nazhuret, above all, to control his body and mind. After several years, Nazhuret begins to find his own way, traveling around Velonya as an itinerant optician and befriending a wolf. Going south, he works as a bouncer in a tavern, where he discovers his mixed heritage: he is part Rezhmian, of a neighboring country often at war with Velonya. When he discovers a plot to kill King Raduf, Nazhuret's training, both of body and mind, is sorely tested. MacAvoy's complex realm is full of confusion and ambiguity, in which, as Powl says, ``You, Nazhuret . . . are the lens of the world: the lens through which the world may become aware of itself. The world, on the the other hand, is the only lens in which you can see yourself.'' (June)

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