Lost Truth, by Dawn Cook (Ace, 2005)

It’s been a rather eventful couple of years for Alissa. After leaving home to seek out the legendary Hold, home of the magic-wielding Masters, she discovered the Hold empty, its halls dusty and echoing, the only inhabitant a Keeper named Bailic, who took her in for the winter. However, Bailic was the one who had originally engineered the emptying of the Hold, killing his fellow Keepers and sending the Masters far away on a wild goose chase, imprisoning the only Master to remain below the Hold. Over time, Alissa and her piper friend Strell overcome Bailic, freed the Master known both as Talo-Toecan and Useless, and discovered Alissa’s true heritage as a Master, capable of great feats of magic and of transforming into one of the giant flying reptilian creatures called raku.

Things got even stranger as Alissa came into her power: she woke the ghosts of a nearby cursed, dead city, and brought its Warden back to a state of semi-life. Later, she fell backwards through time, to a point where the Hold was full and flourishing, the city of Ese’ Nawoer was alive, and certain things had yet to pass. And so Alissa became a part of the past, affecting her own time in subtle ways before returning to it through the help of her friends, and the love of two men.

Now, however, Alissa is about to embark upon the last, and most perilous, stage in her journey. Though she has mastered her transformation into raku form, she still exists at uneasy odds with her feral consciousness, which she calls Beast, and which threatens to dominate her mind should she lose control of her balance. The custom of the Masters, however, is to destroy this feral consciousness, something Alissa feels she cannot, morally, accept. She is torn between the love of the common mortal piper, Strell Hirdune, and the ageless, cursed Warden of Ese’ Nawoer, Lodesh, and before she can choose, she must seek the favor of her missing mother.

Conflicted and rebellious, Alissa is thankful when something new comes up: it seems that her dreams of late are not entirely dreams. The former Master population of the Hold still lives, stranded far away on a distant island, unable to find their way home. So Alissa, Strell, Lodesh, and a young raku Alissa rescued from feralness, Connen-Neute, set off to find the missing Masters and bring them home after decades away. This necessitates a voyage across the sea, fraught with perils of its own, and even should they reach their destination, they’ll discover trouble. For the leader of the missing faction, an ancient raku named Kerybdis, has her own opinions on Alissa’s unusual upbringing, and will stop at nothing to control, dominate, and teach Alissa as she sees fit.

In the end, it could cost Alissa everything to resist.

This is it. Lost Truth is the book that wraps up almost all of the outstanding plotlines. Everything is decided: the fate of the Masters and the Hold, who Alissa loves, even her uneasy truce with her inner Beast. Think you know what’ll happen? Don’t be so sure. Dawn Cook throws in some interesting twists and surprises, and a few last-minute revelations bound to make even the most diligent of readers blink and look again. It’s a perfect payoff for those who’ve read the previous books in the series (First Truth, Hidden Truth, and Forgotten Truth), and a most satisfying ending to Alissa’s story.

What’s good about this book? Where do I even start? All along, it’s been fascinating to watch the culture clashes between the plains-born Strell and the foothills-born Alissa and the inhuman-yet-human raku. With this book, Cook expands the scope to include the culture of the coast dwellers, explores more of the customs of the plains, and delves into more detail in raku lore and custom, making for some interesting discoveries and amusing incidents. Alissa, in particular, is a great foil as she tries to reconcile her ways with the rest of the world, her stubbornness and pride often getting in the way. To say she handles raku culture like a bull in a china shop would be an understatement, especially when the major representative of that culture (in this instance) is a domineering, racist, intolerant, arrogant, frightened, paranoid old reptile to whom Alissa represents the absolute failure of her centuries of planning. You just can’t win with some people.

Strell, unintimidated by the raku after spending so much time with them, brings clear-headedness and practicality into the mix; part of his reason for courting Alissa is so logical and matter-of-fact that only he could pull it off. Lodesh is the smarmy, charming, debonair guy we all love to hate, if just because he stands a major chance of winning Alissa with his wily ways, and Connen-Neute (the only acceptable choice for Alissa, according to the other raku) loves her… like a brother and no more.

In the end, it’s fitting that the series end here. Over the first three books, Alissa discovered her true self, and began to explore the world, learning about her heritage and her family. Now, she’s finally completed the coming-of-age, becoming an adult as far as her two worlds are concerned. While there’s a lot more to be told about her life, especially since raku can live to be a thousand or more, Cook knows when it’s time to stop and let the characters have some rest. The Truth series is a lovely blend of fantasy, coming-of-age, and even romance, so it’s only right that it should wrap up once two of those elements are decided. I know Cook has more things planned, but I hope she’ll return to this particular setting; there are a lot more stories that can be told in the world of the Masters.

Originally posted at SF Site, 2005

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