SNOW FIRE SWORD
HarperCollins / 368 pages / 1st Thus edition (May 9, 2006)
At first glance, Sophie Masson’s latest work appears to be a radical departure from such works as The Laylines Trilogy and the StarMaker series, but the further you plunge into Snow, Fire, Sword the more this adventure in a magical version of Indonesia dovetails with the impressive body of her work. It is an adventure, a quest, a coming-of-age, and an exploration of beliefs. Whatever the outcome in their search, the heroes will learn more than they ever imagined about the world they live in and about themselves; that is pure Masson, and at her best, too.
Dewi is just a country girl who secretly dreams of joining her father as a healer. Adi is an apprentice to one of the greatest sword-makers in the land of Jayangan, itching for his chance to forge a mighty weapon on his own. When a series of troubles bring them together they discover that only they can save the country and the people they love from suffering under the tyranny of an evil being whose nature they can barely grasp. Demons, sorcerers, jinn, tiger-people — everywhere they turn, the mystical forces around them close in. Unmasking the true motives of those they encounter may well turn out to be the most difficult part of the task entrusted to them.
Masson does a masterful job of evoking the revelatory style of The Canterbury Tales while maintaining the mythical atmosphere of Jayangan. Snow, Fire, Sword resonates with the magic of 1001Arabian Nights and the distinctive sights and sensations of a land wholy created in the author’s imagination. Vivid descriptions, an unerring ear for the distinctive dialect, and attention to the behaviours unique to this “parallel” Indonesia combine to coax the reader ever deeper into the story.
Mythology is a topic Masson has explored in much of her work, whether it be among Barons and Ladies or Australian teenagers and fallen angels. The belief systems may be as familiar as Catholicism or Judaism or as foreign (to some of us who don’t get out much…) as Jayangan’s Pumujisal fundamentalist sect, but Masson finds new aspects to every tenet that force readers to re-examine how they have viewed it, from within or from afar. Are miracles and sepaphim any more fantastical than Queen Rorokidul? In Masson’s hands, nothing can be dismissed as too incredible.
Snow, Fire, Sword is one of those books that you might cause you a tinge of embarrassment when you come racing to the end and then realise is intended for secondary school readers. Does that fact that I relished every word mean I’m not quite the adult I thought? No, it simply means that the best storytellers enthral us all. It’s a rare talent, but one that Sophie Masson possesses in abundance.