Matter of taste, and mine has never led me, not easily, to fantasy or science fiction reading--yet Malcolm R. Campbell, with his fantasy novel Sarabande, easily pulled me in. The main character, our mythic heroine, is Sarabande, and she appeals in every way to the female reader. She is street smart at the same time that she is savvy, and even as she enters a world unknown to her, she is sharp and strong enough to find her way through challenge after challenge, disaster after nightmare.
Sarabande's quest is to find her own peace--she has been haunted by her dead sister for years. Her quest takes her into the past to settle the unsettled with her sister Dryad, an anti-heroine, or to take her sister's place in the grave. She travels through Montana and Illinois and across time to accomplish her mission, but encounters a nightmare along the way in the shape of a man, Danny Jenks, a brutal truck driver without conscience.
Campbell describes a rape scene that is difficult to read, yet at the same time, earns my respect with his skill in describing this scene, and its aftermath on the woman. Indeed, I had to keep reminding myself I was reading the writing of a male author. It is rare to find this ability in an author to cross genders even in everyday basics such as conversation, mannerisms. To do so in describing the effect of rape on a woman's body and psyche is nothing short of amazing. Campbell nails it: her anger, her pain, her humiliation, her ferocity that eventually takes her from victim to survivor to avenger.
Blending the fantasy world near seamlessly with reality, Campbell takes the reader from one world into the other and back again with such ease that the reader can easily enter the world of suspended disbelief required to read fantasy. Flying horses vanish and reappear. The dead rise from their graves. Magical beings intermingle with humans. And, not least magical, Campbell avoids cliché deftly, finding new ways to express scenes that could easily fall into the former category:
"Sarabande pushed the hood back and let the wind seize her hair and jumble it with the stuff of clouds."
See? Dipping one toe into an image that could make one wince, he manages to dance away with fresh expression. It works. Sarabande is a satisfying read. We are given a heroine we can understand and with whom we can sympathize. We travel alongside her through conflict and challenge, cheering her on. She suffers and endures, and finally rises above. How she does this ... you'll have to read for yourself.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two other fantasies, The Sun Singer (who returns in this novel) and Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey, also a comedy satire called Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. He lives in Georgia.
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