The Assassins of Tamurin

by S.D. Tower

Published by HarperCollins

454 pages, 2002



Chick Lit for the Fantasy Set

Reviewed by Sienna Powers


With some incredibly noteworthy exceptions, the realm of fantasy fiction has long been a male-dominated field. This is not to say that there haven't been wonderful women writers of fantasy for as long as the genre has existed, but the stories themselves have traditionally been dominated by well-muscled members of the not so gentle sex.

Part of this, I'm sure, is pure logistics. Since most fantasy novels are set in feudal or medieval-type settings, women have a lot against them right out of the starting gate. Saving the world is a pretty tough job when there are yards and yards of fabric between you and the ground beneath your feet. And if you can't even ride a horse -- or some other beast intended for conveyance -- astride, how will you ever manage to get anywhere quickly?

In The Assassins of Tamurin author S.D. Tower gives us not only a worthy heroine, but a whole cast of strong women in a setting that celebrates them. The heroine, Lale, is strong from childhood; she is molded by the madwoman who rules her tiny nation and bound by a sorceress so powerful we never meet a male who even comes close to challenging her. And though there are male roles in The Assassins of Tamurin they seem almost caricatures compared with these strong women: the handsome young ruler who comes to share our heroine's bed, the devious chancellor whose machinations are tiny compared with those of the madwoman and plenty of underlings for Lale to boss around on her way to saving the day and perhaps even the world as she knows it. And none of it is silly. All of it is precisely as it should be. Chick lit for the fantasy set, rendered in saturated colors and memorable hues.

The infant Lale is found alive and squalling in a boat with an elderly couple: both dead. The poor villagers who find her feel compelled to keep the child alive but, truly, they do little else. She is abused and neglected until -- at 11 -- young Lale sets out to find a place where she is wanted. She is discovered and adopted by Makina Seval, the Despotana of Tamurin. Lale comes to love her adopted mother and pledges an oath of loyalty.

The Despotana has adopted many foundlings -- all girls -- and trains them in a special school. At maturity, Lale is given the option of life in a trade that doesn't interest her, or be bundled off to the Despotana's convent, Three Springs, in service to one of the culture's deities.

Though Lale's religious leanings are lean, she chooses the latter as -- it turns out later -- the Despotana knew she would. On her arrival at Three Springs, however, Lale discovers that the facility is not at all what it seems to be. Instead of a quiet place of prayer and meditation, it is a highly secret school for a hand-picked cadre of the Despotana's "daughters". Three Springs is a school for spies.

On her graduation three years later, Lale has become a highly trained instrument for espionage and assassination.

"But why?" Dilara wanted to know. "What's it all for?"

"Knowledge," Tossi said. "People think that arms, men, and wealth are power -- and so they are. But without knowledge, these can be lost between one dawn and the next. An army can be destroyed because it doesn't know where its enemy lurks. A besieged city falls because its governor doesn't know his second in command has been bribed to open the gates. A merchant is ruined because he doesn't know his competitors have conspired against him.

"So you see, strength without knowledge is brittle and easily broken. But even a lesser strength, if it's multiplied by knowledge, can overcome a greater power. We are Mother's eyes and ears in the world; through us she gains the knowledge she needs to protect Tamurin from its enemies."

Once deeply into her first mission, however, Lale finds herself wondering at the Despotana's motives and -- ultimately -- the woman's sanity as Lale discovers that she is part of plot that has been decades in the making.

The Assassins of Tamurin is the first fantasy novel for S.D. Tower, an author currently as shrouded in mystery as his/her creation. The bio that accompanies the book tells us that:

S.D. Tower lives in Canada and is an artist and the internationally published author (under another name) of espionage thrillers.

And nothing else. Which might not be a bad thing. The espionage elements of The Assassins of Tamurin are certainly well rendered but this is a fantasy novel in every sense. If the author's name were recognizable, we might bring more than we should to the reading. As it is, The Assassins of Tamurin is fantasy as it should be: a delightful escape to a place that never was. | February 2003


Sienna Powers is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.