Once in a very great while, I am able to feel privileged to read a masterwork. I felt that way when I read The Riddlemaster of Hed and The Tombs of Atuan. I felt that way reading Rachel Neumeier's The City in the Lake.
It is likely that I wouldn't have found this book, even though I find myself reading even more young adult (YA) fantasy, except that I ran into Rachel at Windycon, and she gave me a copy to read. Frabjous joy!
Oh, boy. From the very first page, I got the same sense of being present at the unfolding of a wonder that I received reading Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip, Peter Beagle, Lynn Abbey and the other great modern fantasists, or Cecelia Holland or Dorothy Dunnett, great writers as well.
I am here to tell you that this is a great book, and it is a wonderful read. It should not be restricted to young adult readers, either. The themes and dimensions of the story resonate well with young adult readers, and also the most adult of us.
There's a City in the lake, beside which a city has been built. As in Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, this city is more than just a single place, it spans all of existence and is the bedrock upon which the entire universe is built. There is evil in the world as well, and the evil wants to devour the power that is intrinsic to the City.
The evil is personified in a woman, sorceress and perhaps demon. She bears a child to the King of the City, and then leaves, abandoning her son.
There is a girl-child named Timou, fathered by a mage named Kapoen, who decides, when her father disappears, to seek him in the City. Timou has grown up in a small village, learning wizardry from her father, and the customs and culture of a small village from her surroundings. Yet she's different, apart, and sees herself that way.
On her way to the City, and once she arrives, Timou immediately finds herself embroiled in the almost hieratic play that unfolds when the King's legitimate son, the heir to the throne that the sorceress covets for her own, bastard son, disappears, followed shortly after by the King's own disappearance.
The book is extremely visual, and could be a terrific fantasy film.
As the characters move through the plot, they grow and change, in some cases maturing, and in some cases learning who they really are, for the very first time.
I think this is, or should be, an award-winning book.
I think you should run right out to your local bookstore, or jump right onto Amazon and buy it.
Then you, too, can have the experience of wonder and awe at reading what is sure to be considered a masterwork in the future.
Associate Editor, Jim Baen's Universe
Active Member SFWA