________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003



Ann Ewan.
Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 2002.
516 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 1-894345-45-2.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Tom Knutson.

***½ /4


Shan could not see how deep the pit was, but she had jumped in practice, with a sword in her hand, many times before. She jumped, hit bottom, and rolled over one shoulder, coming up correctly with the sword ready. She was standing on sand. The stink was overpowering here, and she realized that it was not fox, but weasel. A weasel was trapped down here with her. "Avert," she said, remembering that weasels bring bad luck.

Moving cautiously forward, she saw movement on her right, and then a flash of colour. Red and blue!

Keeping the sword ready, she edged closer. She heard the weasel hiss a warning. Again she saw the blur of colour, and realized it was somehow attached to the weasel. She used the flat of her sword to drive the creature back, trying to trap it against the wall, not wanting to hurt it. Being used, it is, like Arkanan use Wolves, she thought. Doesn't want to be here anymore than I do.

Shan is on the verge of completing the initiation that will mark her graduation from Cub to Wolf, just as many young people before her have done for years. As warriors, compelled to be loyal to the Arkanan wizards, the Wolves of the Kunan Keir kidnap young children from among the Perin people, bring them to a central school and teach them to become Cubs, and eventually warriors. Despite failing initial physical tests due to her short-sightedness (a characteristic not detected by the Wolves), Shan is nevertheless taken from her family to begin training for a life that "will be dangerous and will probably be short." Ironically, it is this visual impairment that ultimately becomes Shan's strength.

     Beneath barren Cardy Plain lies the Firedrake, a dragon-like creature around which has been trapped a piece of the Wheel of Time. The Arkanan wizards, having earlier realized their powers of evil, discovered this key to creating eternal life. However, they still require the assistance of the Wolves as protectors, and they use their powers to maintain this relationship. But a prophecy foretells of a trio of Wolves, comprised of a madman, a wizard and a blind woman, which threatens to destroy the Firedrake and the wizards themselves, thus freeing the Perinan. The enormity of this task weighs heavily as Shan realizes that she is the blind woman.

     Ann Ewan's first novel is a solid “good-versus-evil” story whose success is due to various factors. Ewan has created several plausible groups of characters (Arkanan, Perinan, Kunan Keir, Iluthians) whose conflicts and struggles move the story steadily and evenly towards a dramatic climax and satisfying resolution. Readers with a taste for action, magic and wizards will find the plot (and its subplots) engaging and lively. Quieter narrative sections, such as “storytelling,” flesh out the background material while vivid physical settings include underground mazes and rugged countryside. Ewan achieves believable character development particularly with Shan who, as a young woman in her mid-teens, is acutely aware of the characteristics that isolate her from both the world of the Perinan and the Kunan Keir. Young adults will empathize with her feelings of both inadequacy and self-discovery. Ewan's formal education in old languages is evident in the style of speech and personal and place names that contribute to the atmosphere of an epic legend.

     Firedrake's central female character will appeal to young women who are attracted to the fantasy genre, but the active battle scenes, wizardry and elements of high fantasy will draw the attention of all readers and leave them asking for more.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Knutson is a librarian with Saskatoon Public Library, Saskatoon, SK.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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