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Talisman by Jane M.H. Bigelow
Review by Carolyn Frank
Pronghorn Press Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 193263620X
Date: 30 April, 2006 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Layla's world is one of small cities and towns separated by near desert wastes, a faintly medieval Arabian place with competing gods, polygamous marriages, and class-based rules of behavior. Layla's father was a small jewelry maker, her husband, a prosperous merchant. However as the third, and barren, wife, she felt completely constrained. So she left that life and has became a minor but still self-sustaining thief of small valuables.

Now the Goddess of Mirth has decided that Layla is just what is needed to regain the remaining plundered parts of her statue. As goddesses rarely see any need to communicate their commands in a manner directly comprehensible to normal humans, Layla is stuck with ridiculous wishes coming true in totally unexpected but rather humorous ways, and her current way of life completely overturned.

A thoughtless wish to get away from the priests from whom she stole the emerald results in the appearance of a donkey inside her room. And after she manages to get rid that one, yet another even larger donkey appears. Realizing finally that she does have to move on, she loads the donkey, Imchi, with her belongings and joins a caravan leaving her city.

Layla is a complex human being with a limited set of skills and capabilities: thievery, knowledge of gem stones, minor jewelry making, but the craving for freedom: freedom from being under the direction of a man, freedom to do what she wants when she wants to do it, freedom to love who she wants, freedom to go where she wants. Unfortunately for her, society requires rules for a civilization to work, and her longed for freedoms are outside most of her society's rules.

The book's chapters oscillate between the story being told from Layla's perspective and from the dispassionate third person. However, Layla is not a person to spend endless hours in self-examination, so the reader gets to know her more through her actions, than through her thoughts. And she certainly is a person well worth knowing, lively, with ups and downs, and adventures and mishaps, and all that which makes up a three dimensional human, who just might manage to obtain her freedoms within her world.

This is an old school fantasy, similar to A Thousand and One Nights. Replete with goddesses and gods, and mages and spells, this book tells a story, but it is a story of real people, performing real activities in a world not far fetched from our own. For anyone who enjoys a well-written fantasy novel, this book is highly recommended.

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