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Book Reviews by Stephanie Eve Boone

The Talisman of Faerie
Jason N. Beil
512 pp.
$26.95 (Paperback)

Nothing bad ever happened in Barton Hills. It was as simple as that."

So muses Alec Mason, the unsuspecting hero of The Talisman of Faerie, as he rationalizes his decision to sell the unusual necklace he's just found to a mysterious collector offering a suspiciously exorbitant sum.

I chuckled to myself as I read this line; famous last words, I thought. And predictably enough, on the next page Alec's delay in selling the talisman causes all hell to break loose in Barton Hills: the collector, an evil sorcerer named Salin Urdokk, shows his true colors and comes searching for Alec, leaving fiery destruction in his wake.

Luckily for me, and other readers, this is one of few instances of predictability in Talisman, which as a whole is an engaging tale of black sorcery, white magic, loyalty, betrayal, redemption, bravery, and friendship.

After a confusing but enticing prologue, the story proper begins in Barton Hills, a small town for which the word idyllic must have been invented. The reader's first encounter with Alec, a chubby, agreeable baker's apprentice, finds him trading friendly barbs with his neighbor Sarah (love-interest alert, anyone?) and preparing for a day of festivity.

Everyone in Barton Hills likes each other and lives in harmony; most of the characters we meet are annoyingly nice, wise, and straightforward. But the story's destiny, like Alec's, lies far away from the hamlet, in the forests and cities of his nation of Tyridan and the countries beyond.

When the angry Salin begins his pursuit of Alec, the young man is forced to flee his home along with Sarah, the local tavern peacekeeper Kraig, and Michael, the town hermit who somehow seems to know a great deal about the world of fairies and magic. Michael informs Alec that he carries none other than the Talisman of Unity, an object that must not fall into Salin's hands because, with it, he will be able to bend the Fairy Folk of the north to his will -- and with them, conquer much of the known world.

If the story were only this, four people on a journey fleeing a madman, it would grow tired quickly. But author Jason N. Beil introduces new characters with each passing chapter, and almost all of them play integral roles in the richly layered story.

The characters travel to several well-drawn and distinct cities, through Ogre-infested woodlands, and finally to the long-awaited (and surprisingly, delightfully, less exotic than expected) Kingdom of Fairie.

Beil does not reveal the complex religio-philosophic background of his world all at once, parceling it out throughout the book in easily comprehensible doses, usually as part of a nice expository break after many pages of action. He also keeps us in suspense about the true identities of several major characters for hundreds of pages (although one is easily guessable from the prologue).

Ultimately, The Talisman of Faerie grows more engrossing and enjoyable as it progresses. With few exceptions the main characters are either incorruptibly good or irredeemably evil, but their world is revealed to be one far from black and white. Of the ending, I will say no more than that it leaves the door open for a sequel?which I, for one, would be glad to read.

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