Bryre’s JewelsByresJewelsCV
Book I Of Forgotten Ages
by Joan How

ISBN: 1-4257-2110-9 (Trade Paperback)
ISBN: 1-4257-2111-7 (Hardback)
Pages: 503
Pub. Date: July 2006
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation

It is really hard to believe that Joan How wrote Bryre’s Jewels: Book 1 of Forgotten Ages while still in high school. The characterizations, backgrounds and pace would all indicate a writer who has been at this for quite a while. It is to be hoped that sequels will follow.

It is less hard to believe that, as the book jacket states, she was inspired by “countless fantasy novels,” because it has the generic fantasy setting of a vaguely medieval world, where magic works and dragons abound (although How does put a unique spin on her dragons), somewhere other than Here — which could be some other planet, before recorded history on this one, or who knows where? Few authors in this genre try to explain their settings; like Oz, they just are.

Most of the story is seen through the eyes of three female characters who, we are led to believe, are somehow going to hook up into some sort of glorious triumvirate foretold by legend. There is Crystal, a princess with covert sorcery abilities and must conceal them because she is the daughter of a king who hates all things magic; Brianna, a young woman whose martial arts abilities exceed those of the soldiers around her, and Calypso, with any number of potential mental or magical talents not yet forged.

But How quickly gets the three split up. Crystal finds herself exiled to a different kingdom, the home of the fabled Bryre’s Jewels, stones that can enhance magical powers but can also burn out the user, something like the coveted ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Humbled by a station more like servant than princess, Crystal nonetheless becomes a person of interest to the kingdom’s two young princes, Hurin, the more mature heir-apparent, and Ara, who today might be called a playboy prince. But there are other factions at work in the royal court, some of whom hope to use Crystal toward their own ends and some who would like to destroy her.

Brianna is taken out of the picture even more dramatically, leading a fight against an attacking dragon. In the battle, she is believed killed as the monster carries her away in its flight, but she actually ends up in the sea and is picked up by a pirate ship. But the battle has left her with amnesia; she remembers her name, but nothing else about herself. With her fighting abilities, she soon works herself up the ranks of the ship’s crew, and eventually leads them into a number of strange lands reminiscent of Ulysses’ famous journeys in Homer’s Odyssey.

Calypso is able to determine that Brianna is not dead, as almost everyone else believes. There is also a way the jewels can act as a kind of TV communication system. Unfortunately, Brianna has no idea how to use her jewel, but the fact that it has not gone dark when Calypso tries to contact her shows Brianna is at least still alive. Calypso, meanwhile, finds herself being inducted into a cult with designs on power. She comes to like some of its members well enough, and is torn between joining or betraying them.

The points of view among these characters and the many others who populate the story come fast and furiously, often with several in the same chapter. The shifts are more like a cinematic technique than a traditional novel, but they do keep the story moving. There are times when contemporary expressions from our own time and place creep into this far-off world where they could never have been heard, but the reader can always assume that the expressions are a close approximation in our language of whatever a character is saying in whatever language they speak.

Since this is Book 1, the reader knows that not everything is going to be resolved in this novel. However, the jewels of the title become the focal point of this particular installment, and there does seem to be a resolution regarding them, which comes in highly dramatic fashion. It will be fascinating to see where How takes her tale from here.—Paul Dellinger, Y-30 Staff