The Storm Weaver and the Sand – Sean Williams
HarperCollins, December 2002, tpb, 384pp, $29.95
ISBN 0-7322-6998-9
Review by Stephen Dedman

Sean Williams is one of the most successful and amazingly prolific science fiction and fantasy writers in Australia. He has written or co-written everything from exquisitely crafted short horror stories to galaxy-spanning trilogies, including best-selling Star Wars: New Jedi Order novels. The Storm Weaver and The Sand is the final book in his Books of The Change trilogy, a wonderfully inventive fantasy and coming-of-age story that has already been compared to LeGuin's Earthsea books, set against a future Australian landscape as fascinating as that of Terry Dowling's Rynosseros tales.

Twelve-year-old Sal Hrvati has a "wild talent" for using "the Change", an elemental magical power, but has had only a little training—most of it from Lodo, an outcast Stone Mage and convicted necromancer. He and his adoptive father, Dafis Hrvati, fled the Haunted City many years before... but now Dafis is dead, and the Sky Wardens have forced Sal to return to their island city along with his travelling companions, Lodo's crippled apprentice Shilly and the student Stone Mage Skender.

The three friends are accepted into the Novitiate for training as future Sky Wardens, but soon learn that the Haunted City is aptly named. The massive towers on the island have been sealed to prevent the ghosts inside from escaping, as it has been predicted that another Cataclysm will begin if the seals are broken.

Sal is introduced to his ambitious grandmother, Radi Mierlo, and to his real father, the Sky Warden Highson Sparre, who he knows only by reputation as the man who married his mother for political ends, then pursued her and her lover into the borderlands. Sparre gives him a letter from his late mother, which tells him to speak to the ghosts in the Golden Tower—which his teachers tell him is as mythical as the Storm Weavers. When a malevolent golem offers to help Sal find both the tower and Lodo, Shilly sees this as a way to escape from the Haunted City and summons a rather cryptic ghost who seems to confirm this, but offers little help.

Skender sees Lodo, possessed by the golem, murder Radi Mierlo—but when the golem leads the way to the Golden Tower, the three friends have no choice but to follow it into the nightmarish tunnels beneath the city, and into what lies beyond.

The Storm Weaver and the Sand is the most intricate and exciting of the books in the trilogy, as Sal is finally forced to confront his family, his enemies, his own powers, and everything he has fled in the previous two volumes, and the story builds to a surprising and satisfying climax. Every character in the novel has his or her own voice and own agenda, and the relationships between father and son, and student and teacher, are explored with a depth and insight that is rare in genre fiction.

The strongest point of the series, however, is the setting. Instead of the usual pseudo-medieval European background of Tolkien imitators, Williams has created a new world of deserts and beaches, camel caravans and bone ships, Stone Mages and Storm Weavers, ghosts and golems, man'kin's and strandbeasts. There are no swords, but plenty of sorcery; no dragons, but some great dungeons.

The Storm Weaver and the Sand is a superior Australian fantasy novel, but more than this; it is simply superior fantasy.

Sean Williams's
The Storm Weaver and the Sand
(December 2002)
© 2002 Stephen Dedman

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