The Dreaming Tree

Written by C.J. Cherryh
Published by Daw

Most of The Dreaming Tree was originally published as two different novels in 1983: The Tree of Jewels and Swords and The Dreamstone. Some new material has been added in this new single-book format, along with an excellent cover by Michael Whalen.

The book follows the entwined destinies of Arafel, lady of the Sidhe, and a family of humans, the lords and ladies of Caer Weill. Arafel, the last of the Sidhe, guards the ancient and fey forest of Eld, and how the wars of Men affect her and her forest is the heart of The Dreaming Tree. How some mortals learn to tread the line between fey and mortal, becoming feared, even hated, by other mortals is at the heart of the book.

The characters are interesting and diverse, at least the main characters. There are the usual fantasy elements, such as the grizzled veteran and the beautiful lady who's afraid of blood, a convention that is much more annoying to we female readers, but seems to be pretty unavoidable. Arafel is just as she should be--powerful, enigmatic, and by turns compassionate or cold. The personification of Death is, while fairly traditional, well-executed and effective. Kings are a good combination of human and regal, as are the men who support them. The Pooka treads a good line between sinister and simply capricious. It is also quite nice to see something in a fantasy book other than the typical elves, like the Gruagach, yet without the book degenerating into a way for an author to show off his or her knowledge of the fey.

The salient points of the story itself are not precisely unique in fantasy fiction--the Sidhe, a human war of succession, etc.--but some of the details are refreshingly new, and the execution is good. The plot of The Dreaming Tree, because it paces the immortal Arafel more than the humans around her, seems to jump around a bit, leaving gaps of time between major events. Characters you have grown to care about simply die or drop out of the book for good, while children grow up and become the new main characters. The war seems to progress slowly, the twists and turns of human politics creating both set-backs and liberations for the sympathetic characters of the book. The book does suffer a bit from a kind of patchwork syndrome; things which could or should be developed more for a smoother read are glossed over. The prose itself is lovely and imaginative, but the plot progression is jerky in places, disorienting the reader in a way that does not serve, for example, to reflect the mystery of the Sidhe, but rather just feels rushed and scantily-developed. At times, The Dreaming Tree feels as if it is two books edited down to one, rather than two full texts plus some new material.

For those of you without a background in languages, the Celtic names might give you pause and interfere with your reading and enjoyment. Just flip to the back of the book--the editors and author have provided a handy-dandy pronunciation key.

The Dreaming Tree doesn't try to be anything more than it is: an unusually good fantasy novel with interesting characters, plot, and folklore. In this, Cherryh succeeds admirably. It has magic, faeries light and dark, adventure, death, and revenge. The Dreaming Tree is a good book for those times when Joyce's Ulysses is taunting you from the shelves.

Grade: B

Review submitted by Dindrane

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