Title: Isles of the Forsaken
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Publisher: ChiZine Publications
Pub Date: 08/31/2011
Category: ADULT: Fantasy
‘Isles of the Forsaken’ is an excellent book, beautifully written and rich with meaning. It’s a unique and unpredictable story full of surprises, interesting characters and mysterious forays into the world of the spirit that lingered long after I put the book down.
The Forsaken Isles are on the brink of revolution. Three individuals are about to push it over the edge and trigger events that will lead to a final showdown between ancient forces and the new overlords of the land. Spaeth Dobrin is destined to life as a ritual healer—but as the dhotamar of the tiny, isolated island of Yora, she will be caught in a perpetual bond between herself and the people she has cured. Is it slavery, or is it love? Meanwhile, Harg, the troubled and rebellious veteran, returns to find his home transformed by conquest. And Nathaway, the well-intentioned imperialist, arrives to teach Spaeth’s people “civilization,” only to become an explorer in the strange realm of the Forsakens. These two men will propel Spaeth into a vortex of war, temptation, and—just possibly—freedom.
This book is essentially about overlapping cultures and the frictions between their beliefs and practices. Carolyn Gilman creates a vivid world of four races. The Innings are the colonialist rulers of the Isles. They have no gods and believe in ‘law’ as their highest principal. But this is a law that in practice isn’t applied equally, has cruel punishments and imposes an alien culture, including paperwork and taxes, on the natives of the Isles, the Tornas, the Adaina and the few remaining Lashnura healers. The Adaina live by a complex set of shamanistic beliefs that include a great reverence for the Lashnura healers, respect for the gods within the land and an understanding of the necessity of maintaining the delicate balance between chaos and order. The Tornas have lost these beliefs to a large extent and are simply trying to survive the best they can under their colonialist masters.
Added to this, the ancient bond between the healers and their patient, based on an extreme compassion where the healer physically takes on the pain of the patient has, through healer addiction to the ritual and selfish patient demands on the healer, degenerated into a form of slavery. The theme of addiction as slavery is continued in the Inning use of a drug as a method of control.
The story is told through the interlocking experiences of Spaeth ( Lashnura), Nathaway (Inning) and Harg (Adaina), all likeable and well drawn characters. The novel makes it clear that different beliefs create different perceptions of the same phenomena. What to the Innings is a barbaric ritual slavery, is to the Lashnura the greatest expression of love on a deeply spiritual level. What to the Innings is fair law and order, is to the Adaina the attempt to impose something rigid and uncompromising on a fluid and ever changing world. The parallel with our world’s issues between cultures is clear, and this novel gives us greater understanding by showing us the world through the different perspectives.
I loved that the book was so different to other things I’ve read recently, a very refreshing change to vampires, werewolves, witches and angels. Although it’s set in a different world, the characters and the issues are completely modern and easy to relate to. My favourite parts were when Nathaway and Spaeth slipped into the spirit world, a kind of dreamtime where myth became reality. These highly imaginative forays skilfully invoked the power and mystery of the spiritual world.
This is a book not to miss. I recommend ‘The Forsaken Isles’ to all fantasy fans. If you liked Graceling, you will probably like this one. I cannot fault it in any way, so I give it 5 stars.