The Pool of Two Moons
Kate Forsyth

This review appeared in Altair issue 2.

Cover US Cover Ohh no, not another fantasy trilogy. With the plethora of faeries (always spelt with an 'e' nowadays) and swords that abound in books with inch wide spines and sold in sets of three, I'd hesitate before looking at another one. The Witches of Eileanan, however, is different. Yes it is an epic fantasy trilogy, but it has more depth and imagination then the others in this field.

The witches (of the trilogy title) have fled to Eileanan from Earth, the highlands of Scotland in particular, to escape the witch hunts of the 16th century. Having arrived at Eileanan life was fine and dandy for them for a few hundred years, then the populace turned on them and outlawed witchcraft, again (some people seem destined to remain firelighters).

It is in this time that the trilogy is set. The macro plot has the outlawed witches inciting a revolution to restore the 'Coven' to its former status as guardian and guide of the people.

The trilogy is ostensibly Isabeaus 'coming of age', but this is as much a denigration of the tale as saying 'Lord of the Rings' is a 'good overcomes evil quest'. Having set the background for the trilogy I'll restrict the rest of my comments to book 2, 'The Pool of Two Moons', the subject of this review.

'The Pool of Two Moons' has a complex narrative inter-weaving the actions of a number of characters at different locations, often with two or more chapters taking place contemporaneously.

The story opens with Meghan, Iseult and Bacaiche/Lachlan (Isabeau doesn't appear until a fifth of the way through the book. So you can see why I say the story is only ostensibly her 'coming of age'. Far more happens in the book then is directly relevant to her development.) on the run from the Red Guards of the Awl. They need to get to Tulachna Celeste and then Lucescere to join the Key and free the Lodestar. It is only with the Lodestar that the Fairgean uprising will be halted. AS you can expect not everything goes according to plan.

Whilst they are doing that Isabeau is in the Righ's court at Rhyssmadill. Hiding in the guise of a serving girl Isabeau is learning as much as she can about Mayas plans and continuing her witch training under Latifa, the Righ's cook and a rebel spy. When the time comes Isabeau has to meet Meghan in Lucescere with her and Latifa's parts of the Key.

These are the two main threads in the book. Jorge, the blind witch with the gift of prophecy, sets about starting a new Theurgia to train witches. Maya and Sani further their plans to destroy Eileanan and give it back to the Fairgean. Margrit, from the Tower of Mists schemes with the Tirsoilleireans while the Mesmerdean do her bidding. Dide and Lilanthe scour the countryside for information and recruits to the rebels cause. Anhus MacRuraich is sent to hunt the Arch-Sorceress Meghan.

This brief outline has ignored a vast number of subplots and characters. It's simply not possible to cover all of the intrigues and people Kate has included in a short review..

What makes this book memorable, though, is not the complexity of the plot, but the vitality of the characters. Meghan is a both a hardened rebel and lovable grandmother figure. Lachlan is embittered and angry at the world, yet encompasses great love. Isabeau goes through many changes from naive child to bearer of everyone's burdens. The most important thing about the characters is they aren't static. They all develop and change as the story's events unfold around them. None of the characters are two dimensional. I often felt I would look up from the page and see them watching me.

One thing I did miss in 'The Pool of Two Moons' was the dragons. They had a large role to play in book 1, but are noticeably absent here. There is one cameo appearance by a dragon at the wedding, but I'm not going to tell you which dragon or whose wedding.

No book is without it's flaws, though. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the 'cloak of invisibility'. It is a cliché icon added to the story in a tacked on way. The uses to which it is put to could have been achieved in a less hackneyed way. There are other fantasy icons in the story, for example an enchanted medallion, but their use was not jarring in the way I found the cloaks was.

In the climax of the story the actions of Latfia, who threads between being a minor and major character, seemed to conflict with the personality that had been built through the rest of the book. She is a background character in the scene so the climax isn't ruined, but her actions seem uncharacteristic.

The Tirsoilleireans society is too obviously based on Islamic fundamentalism. Chiefly in the depiction of their religious practices and city design. This clashes with the origins of the humans on Eileanan, they being from medieval Scotland. This makes the Tirsoilleireans a little cliché.

These are minor quibbles which don't detract overly much from the quality of the story. It is a rich tapestry of settings, creatures and people. The magic is suitably ritualised and arcane. The characters are engaging and likable (or dislikable depending which side they're on.).

In summation I'd encourage you to read 'Pool of Two Moons'. Superficially, it's fun and easy to read. It gave me hours of pleasure. More deeply, Kate is making some important points about persecution and how we treat differences. She has managed to do this without being didactic or condescending.

'The Pool of Two Moons' has a style and complexity reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's 'Book of the New Sun' quartet, though not as dark.