Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Sovereign Hand The Sovereign Hand
by Paul Gilbert
Steam Press

Supplied for review by Steam Press

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

It is a hopeful sign of a growing maturity in the field of SF&F in New Zealand that this work of fantasy doesn’t feel the need to scream "I am a New Zealand novel" although it was both written and published here. Instead it whispers its kiwi roots in references to such things as feijoas and punga trees, which I’m sure is entirely deliberate. In fact, I suspect that a great deal of deliberation has gone into the writing of The Sovereign Hand, in its clever and carefully measured prose, its meticulous setting, and memorable characters.

That setting is quite unusual, an amalgam of High Fantasy and Steampunk, where science and magic both work, and can therefore happily pit guns and explosives against eldritch creatures of magic. And not just that, it is a socially and politically evolved magical society where non-human sentients like gobelins, drakes and taureans are being steadily integrated into the Primacy. There’s a reason why most fantasy authors maintain their societies at the pseudo-medieval – it’s comfortable and familiar, a whole lot easier on both writer and reader. Gilbert has dared to be different, to do the difficult thing, and by and large, he succeeds. But it’s not always an easy read.

He likes to play with words, digging into odd lexicographical corners, and coining new words of his own, which can occasionally confound the reader. Never mind, this is a grand and highly original work of fantasy, a complete and exciting story in one volume (not just one in an interminable series of boring bricks).

The story centres around a group of variously talented young people, some more likeable than others, all of whom are called to defend the Primacy against the latest in a series of disasters called Galls. After a somewhat boggy start, the plot really gets going when the Hand are brought together and they go through the portal called the Gherensgate to find their fate. But after they return to Thorn they find that it’s only the beginning, and then the story inexorably begins to build to a truly spectacular climax.

Definitely recommended, and quite possibly one of the best works of fantasy ever published in New Zealand.

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