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Dreams Of The Compass Rose
Vera Nazarian
Wildside Press
348 pages
Publication date May 2002
Hardcover $39.95
Author web site:

Regular readers of this column know that I rarely read fantasy. I simply don't care for most of the contemporary fantasy I have read. I grew up reading Dunsany, Lovecraft. Smith, Blackwood, Hodgson, Leiber, Howard, and other "classical" fantasy writers. My tastes in the genre run close to what Lin Carter dredged up for the lamented Adult Fantasy series he put together for Ballantine Books, lo these many years ago. Although I love Tolkien, I pretty much ODed on his many imitators from the 1960s and 1970s. I don't care for Terry Brooks. Don't talk to me about macho sword-wielding elves or lepers with magic gold rings unless you want to be bitch-slapped.

All of which means that I wasn't prepared for Vera Nazarian's episodic and somewhat eccentric novel, Dreams of the Compass Rose. The book comprises a story-cycle with recurring characters. It warmed the heart of this particular fantasy curmudgeon and I don't mind saying so.

Nazarian whirls us away to another land and another time—several of them, in fact—where there are (thankfully) no elves or dwarves, where gods still walk among us and play their games with human pieces upon a board only they can see.

We suspect that the board must be circular. Nazarian uses circularity as a theme throughout the book, often in conjunction with flowers, and water. Most of the book takes place in the central regions of the lands of the Compass Rose, which is largely a desert where water is, of course, of vital importance to the inhabitants. The Compass itself is circular, and one of the central stories has to do with an attempt on the part of one of the characters to find the edge of the world: an impossibility on a globe, of course.

The lives of several characters are woven into these tales: Nadir, a young boy who grows to be a warrior in the service of a haughty and selfish young princess he is sworn to serve because he has caused her father's death; Ris, a Coyote-like goddess in human form, the Bringer of Water to the parched desert lands of the Desert Rose; Nadir's sister, Caelqua, who is transformed by Ris; the nameless woman who devises the Compass Rose itself for Cireive, the mad king who later blinds her; Annaelit, the storyteller; and many others.

Nazarian writes in a sweeping, lyrical style that nevertheless contains touches of earthiness. Most of the book is straightforward, but she does display a good sense of comedy as evidenced in one of the chapters, about Belta Digh, a female café owner who one afternoon finds a disconsolate Death drinking in her establishment. It seems that someone has stolen Death's scythe, and she—yes, she—is desperate to get it back.

This book is the first original fantasy hardcover from John Betancourt's highly regarded Wildside Press. Wildside is taking a gamble with this novel, but I think it's a calculated risk. Nazarian shows great promise. Her obvious love for the traditions of the genre is all the more remarkable when one realizes that English is not her native tongue: she came to the United States from the Soviet Union at age 10. She learned English well enough and quickly enough to sell her first story at 17.

Reading Dreams of the Compass Rose was a rich and rewarding experience for me. You may well find it the same, if you're like me and find yourself yearning for the distant lands of classical fantasy. It may well be that Vera Nazarian, like her trickster goddess, Ris, is one of the old masters of fantasy, returned to earth in a new guise. She bears watching."

And reading.


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