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    Review of THE PRIZE IN THE GAME by Jo Walton

    TOR, December 2002

    In a magical version of celtic Ireland, three young men vie for the heirship to the crown. Darag is handsome and unbeatable with the spear. Conal is ambitious and filled with hatred for Darag. Emer is the obvious runner-up. As political tensions mount, the three are sent on a series of contests judged by each of the Irish kings. To the winner, the heirship. To the loser--who knows. But their competition does more than settle the succession. It also exposes a deadly curse in the very kingdom they fight for. They have offended the great goddess and she has cursed them. Any invader will find them unable to defend themselves, unable to stand. And a powerful invader, the brutal (female) warrior king Maga has united the island to attack.

    Author Jo Walton (see more reviews of novels by Walton) has taken a brief incident from her earlier novel THE KING'S NAME (see the review) and explained the background and the personalities behind it. THE PRIZE IN THE GAME depicts the rivalry between the three young men against the background of island politics and from the viewpoints of the men themselves, and from that of two sisters and daughters of Maga. Elenn is the most beautiful woman of her generation--and becomes the prize in her mother's ambition. Emer, Elenn's younger sister, becomes charioteer and lover for Conal and the person responsible for the failure of her mother's ambitions.

    There's a lot going for this novel. It's exciting adventure with both male and female warrior characters, magical healing and a strangely powerful universe of gods and parallel universes where each person may make multiple decisions. Emer emerges as the primary point of view character. With her love for Conal, she is a biased observer in the contest for kingship, but gradually begins to see Darag's importance. Walton gives the reader a bit of a twist by making the reader sympathize with Conal and Emer, but then having Darag as the critical figure in the novel. I'd be interested in other reader's reactions. Personally, I would have preferred to see more of Darag's introspection, his own views, and at least his actions unclouded by the emnity that Conal and Emer showered on him. (If you've read this book, write me and let me know--I'll post your replies).

    THE PRIZE IN THE GAME is an exciting adventure filled with a consistent magical system largely based on the beliefs of the celts during the days of Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England (and the Irish invasion of Scotland). Its a fast read and definitely hard to put down. I especially like the way Walton handles the roles of the different sexes. Whether male or female, anyone can be a warrior, anyone can be a priest, anyone can be a king.


    Reviewed 1/22/03

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