I encountered Melanie Rawn via her debut novel, Dragon Prince, and was thrilled to find her bringing fantasy romance to life as few but Mary Stewart and M.K. Wren have managed to do. I devoured that thick book, the rest of that trilogy, and the successor Dragon Star trilogy. I picked up the first two books of the Exiles trilogy as soon as they came out, and have been waiting in frustration for The Captal’s Tower ever since (over 15 years now, in case you think I’m impatient).
I picked up her collaboration The Golden Key (with Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson), and didn’t think much of it. Still, when I saw this book in a discount store, I picked it up, thinking “Hey, she hasn’t written the book I’m waiting for, but she’s still writing. Let’s see what there is.”
The Diviner is a solo-author prequel to The Golden Key. It’s placed in a faux Middle-Eastern setting that’s alternately nicely and awkwardly handled. The story purports to describe cultures with powerful females, but sees them through the eyes of three generations of men, who also seem to do pretty well for themselves.
Rawn remains a good stylist, and the three viewpoint characters are nicely distinct. At the same time, the book is choppy and in some places cursory. Dramatic actions come and go, and while I give Rawn credit for focusing more on people than events, these are the people leading or causing the events, and it sometimes feels like they’re not paying attention. The book would also have benefited greatly from a map. There are so many tribes, names, and places mentioned that it’s hard to keep track of, especially since I, at least, couldn’t line them up with real places. A genealogical chart would have helped too – I also had trouble remembering who was related to whom, and eventually gave up.
Finally, near the every end of the book, we get to the set up for The Golden Key. This part was genuinely interesting, but it felt like the other 300 pages were a vastly overextended lead in. I give Ms. Rawn credit for trying to make the story stand on its own, and be more than just a prequel. For me, it didn’t really work. The other material just wasn’t interesting enough. The very end of the story provides a decent wrapup that strengthens this as a standalone novel, but it’s not sufficient. I strongly recommend reading The Golden Key in advance if you want to get full value from The Diviner.
Overall, nicely written, but not tremendously engaging. If you loved The Golden Key, you’ll want to read this. Otherwise, this is interesting but not really recommended.