The Cursed

by Dave Duncan,
400 pages,
ISBN: 0345389514

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Brief Reviews
by Kenneth Stickney

The Cursed (Ballantine, 418 pages, $22 cloth, $6.99 paper), the latest effort by the Calgary fantasy author Dave Duncan, takes us into a dark age of war and barbarism that follows the fall of the Qolian Empire. Duncan is a prolific author, already well-known for his Seventh Sword trilogy, and for his four-volume series A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men. Indeed, so voluminous are his works that he has had to resort to more than one publisher to get them all into print. (And more than one name: he has already published Demon Sword, the first of the Longdirk series, under the pseudonym Ken Hood.)

The Cursed is a stand-alone novel with an involved internal logic. A plague of star sickness has fallen upon the land and while many of its victims die, others emerge with otherworldly powers. Some can see the future and some can heal the sick. Still others can cause sickness or terror. Such powers carry odd corollaries: those who see the future remember nothing and are forced to keep voluminous diaries. Together, these survivors are known as the Cursed (or "scaths") and are shunned as outlaws.

Gwin, the heroine of the novel, is an innkeeper who eventually rises to become the Witch, the leader of all the Cursed. Allied with the warlord Zorg (a charmer who evokes Vlad the Impaler), the Cursed use their powers to erect a new empire. In the end, it is Gwin's son who is remembered as the founder of the "second" empire, the successor to the Qolian dynasty.

Duncan writes colloquially, avoiding the high style of Tolkien and Eddison without ever falling into the vulgarity of space opera. He manages to maintain the reader's interest in his Byzantine plot throughout 418 pages without ever faltering. For fans of the genre, it's a meaty read.

Kenneth Stickney


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