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  • Written by Pauline Alama
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  • The Eye of Night
  • Written by Pauline Alama
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307480873
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Written by Pauline AlamaAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Pauline Alama

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On Sale: December 10, 2008
Pages: 464 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48087-3
Published by : Spectra Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From Pauline J. Alama comes a stirring fantasy tale of three vagabonds in a dying world and their terrifying quest into the heart of darkness...

The Eye Of Night

It is a magical world on the verge of collapse. In the North the Troubles rage. Cities and kings are being annihilated; the very earth is in upheaval, waking even the dead from their graves. All notions of time and space, of day and night, of seasonal change seem fractured beyond repair. But as the chaos moves slowly south, engulfing land after land, three unlikely heroes--an ex-priest, a battered serving girl, and an exquisitely beautiful, refined lady--journey bravely to the dying regions, their only weapon an enchanted stone of enigmatic power and ancient origin.

Jereth, disillusioned with his faith in the Rising God and robbed of his family after a deadly shipwreck, struggles to find meaning in his blighted life, searching the devastated land without direction--until he meets two extraordinary women. Each has her own secrets to keep; both are on a quest to save the world. But they must first save themselves, conquering their demons and rousing their well-disguised strengths. Only then will it be revealed how three penniless, unarmed wanderers can light a darkening world. For one is a prophet, one is a fool, and one’s life is now in their hands.

Excerpt

Kelgarran Hall

I little thought, when I begged shelter at Kelgarran Hall one rainy night, that I should take part in its downfall.

It happened the night of St. Bridwen's Day, in the year of my pilgrimage. I had left the Tarvon Order and taken my troubles to the Lake-Shrine of St. Fiern, as so many god-haunted wanderers do. I was traveling back toward what I could no longer call my home when I came, a disappointed pilgrim, to Kelgarran Hall.

It was a generous hearth in those days, the grand days of Lord Dannoth Kelgarran: Dannoth the Mighty, Dannoth the Bountiful. Some lords honor St. Bridwen's Day by doling out bread at the gate, but Lord Dannoth opened his doors and larder to all travelers, high- or lowborn. I was abjectly grateful; it was the first thing I'd found to praise that whole unfruitful year.

A sorry pilgrimage that had been! I'd seen nothing in the still pool they call the Mirror of St. Fiern, nothing: not even my own reflection, for rainstorms had drowned the pool in dull, blackish mud. That featureless blackness, more than any evil vision I might have seen, seemed to pass a death sentence over me: my life was a void, a starless night. For a moment, I felt I must cast myself into the depths and drown, as though the saint herself had urged it. I'd never felt less inclined to return to the Order, but neither had I any glimmer of a new life outside it.

I arrived at Kelgarran Hall a lost man, and they welcomed me. Whatever has been said of them since then--whatever I myself am compelled to say--let this kindness be set in the balance.

The holiday took me by surprise. I had lost count of days in the long footsore passage from St. Fiern's Town eastward to Lake Garran, with an anxious detour into the marshy wastes to avoid a small war between two of the cities of the plain. Even when I'd passed the marshes, the damp clung to me. It was late spring, but a spring almost stillborn, cold and meager--a sign of the Troubles, people said. When I slogged through the mud to the gates of Kelgarran City one rainy afternoon, it puzzled me to see festal banners of green and gold exposed to the rain, and the populace in a chilled and damp procession toward the town square for the St. Bridwen's Day pageant. Only by counting days on my fingers could I convince myself that it was, indeed, the saint's day, with summer and the Feast of the Bright Goddess close at hand.

Under the pavilions hastily set up in the town square against the weather, I watched the pageant with only half an eye for it. St. Bridwen's legendary openhandedness was all very well in ancient days, but I'd found precious little of it among the people I met along the road from St. Fiern's Town to Kelgarran. The little money I had been granted for the pilgrimage was spent, and I had been sleeping in the temple courts with other travelers and beggars, eating whatever crust would be spared to me. Like many in the crowd, I looked forward to the culmination of the pageant, when St. Bridwen's mysterious well gives ale and bowls are handed round to the populace. I was hungry, and even a mouthful of ale is at least something in the belly.

But the man who passed me the bowl, a thin blond youth with a Kettran accent and the white robes of the Order of St. Rann, laughed at my eagerness. "This is breakfast for you, too?" he said.

I grimaced. "It's been a hard pilgrimage."

"Mine, too," he said. "But they say that travelers are welcome at the lord's table tonight. I am Brother Ennes, priest of the Order of St. Rann. Pass the bowl and come with me; we'll see if it's true."

"I'm Jereth," I told him, and added no more, unsure whether I dared any longer to add any suffix to my bare given name. Order, profession, patronym, hometown--any of these seemingly innocent additions might drag along in their train the whole story of my failed priesthood and failed pilgrimage. My very appearance must have told part of that story: I looked scarcely more than a common beggar, my hair grown out of tonsure. A travel-worn cassock belted in rope was the only remaining mark of my abandoned order. The wooden emblem of a key that hung from my belt was scarcely recognizable, half broken the night before when I'd had to scramble under a hedge, driven from my sleeping place by a guard dog. It had been a hard pilgrimage indeed.

Grateful for any slim chance of shelter, I followed Ennes through the stone streets of Kelgarran, past shops decked in gold and green for the holiday, past the tall houses of the wealthy citizens, on an ever-climbing road to the castle door. I was surprised by the beauty of the structure: having heard of the might of the House of Kelgarran, I had expected a stark fortress, blank-faced and harsh as a cliff; but here was a many-towered cloud-castle of silvery-pale stone that gleamed even in the dull light of a rain-drenched day.

I shook my head as Ennes strode boldly to the door, answering the sentry's cry with a few words, "In St. Bridwen's Name." But little as they seemed, those words gained us entry. At the guard's request, Ennes left his sword and bow at the door; having no weapon to leave, I entered freely as the flies that had taken refuge from the rain.

I could scarcely believe our good fortune when Lord Dannoth's servant led us, not to some nook of the scullery to gnaw crust amid the noise of pot-scraping, but to the lord's feast-hall, to share in the plenty among his own kindred and retainers, mingling among them as if St. Bridwen's name obliterated all distinction of rank.

Dazed as sleepwalkers, Ennes and I made our way to the purple-draped dais at the head of the hall to bow before our host, Lord Dannoth Kelgarran, a broad-shouldered man dressed in the colors of the holiday with a robe of grass-green and a close-fitting jacket of gold brocade, a crown of new leaves pressing down the iron-gray hair that still curled thickly down to his collar. I had expected him to look older; my father, sixty when he died, had been young when Dannoth was crowned.

His lady sat by his side, also decked out in the green and gold of approaching summer, a crown of flowers in her butter-blond hair. She looked young and fresh, but that is no rare thing in the wife of a prosperous man. They bid us welcome, and a liveried servant ushered us to seats at a huge table that was fast filling with people of every station: Lord Dannoth's own kin in silks, merchants in velvet caps, laborers in homespun, priests and priestesses of all four Great Ones wearing the garb of some dozen different orders.

The warmth and brightness of the feast-hall seemed to me to hold all the delights of the fabled womb of the world. I had been shivering ever since I woke, but here was a hearty fire; here were walls warm and festive with tapestries, red and gold; here were folk at ease around an oak table broad as the deck of a trading ship, laden with enough food to provision a journey to the world's end. The scents made me dizzy: thick stew steamed in wooden bowls, roast meats smoked on silver plates, and spiced wine raised its languid perfume from gilded flagons. And the sounds intoxicated me: the sound of laughter around the table, like a music I had half forgotten, heard long ago in a life I could scarcely call mine.

I spoke little, but listened to Ennes chatter with the merchant and scholar on his other side. He said he'd been sent from Kettra by the Order of St. Rann to guard the great trading road of northern Swevnalond. Now he was returning to his homeland, for with the Troubles in the North, no one went that way anymore. "Even if the traders came north again, what could I do for them? Guard them against ghosts, and wave my sword at apparitions? It's no place for a living man anymore," he said. "I believe the gods themselves have condemned it."

It was only later that I noticed the discrepancy in his story: earlier, he had as good as told me he was on a pilgrimage, like me. I had been startled by the habit of St. Rann; my father once employed a guard from that notorious band of Kettran warrior-priests, as strong as a blacksmith and about as scrupulous as an assassin. Ennes looked at once too slight and too innocent for the robes he wore. Now, looking back, I wonder if he was lying, wearing a dead man's habit and name to deter highwaymen and overawe chance acquaintances on the road home. Perhaps I was the innocent, to accept without question the face each passerby chose to wear. More likely I never had time to consider Ennes's story, for the last guest to arrive that evening put him clean out of my mind.

The meal had begun already when the carved oaken doors of the hall opened to the Lady Trenara. There was a little servant with her--not a child, I mean, but a woman shorter than many of the children about the table. The maidservant wore the bewildered expression of a simpleton in a face oddly lopsided, like an image in troubled water. As they passed the foot of the great table, she looked wildly about, stammering, "Beg of your kindness, please sir, some shelter, for my lady's sake, kind sir," to no one in particular, unable to tell who was the lord of the hall or whom she should ask. The lady placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, calming her confusion, and together they walked to the head of the hall to bow deeply before Lord Dannoth.

The lord smiled down from his oaken throne. "All travelers are welcome in St. Bridwen's name," he said. "What is your name, good gentlewoman?"

"I am the Lady Trenara of Larioneth. My family was scattered by the Troubles in the North."

"I'm Hwyn," the servant said, squinting up from the floor where she still knelt.

"Larioneth!" exclaimed Lord Dannoth Kelgarran. "I had not thought any still lived of that land's best blood. Is it true what they say--that even the dead are cast out of their graves and walk the earth?"

Trenara nodded gravely.

"I heard the King of Larioneth tore his own eyes out, ghost-ridden, years ago," Ennes muttered to the scholar.

Lord Kelgarran frowned. "These days I even fear for my own land. The Troubles are reaching farther and farther; as Larioneth is today, all Swevnalond may be tomorrow--gods defend us! A madness is sweeping down over the land. They say a rioting crowd in Helmstrang slew their Count and all his family; that the Crown Prince of Adelwic killed his own kin and himself. But enough of these forebodings. My home is yours for as long as you need it, noble cousin--for a cousin you must be at long remove, like all the house of Larioneth. Have a seat: my people will serve you, and you'll lack nothing.

"I serve Trenara," the little servant grumbled, and without waiting for the household people to set a place for them at table, began helping the lady out of her long cloak and traveling boots, unveiling a little more of the beauty that held every eye in the hall.

How shall I begin to describe Trenara? She was majestic. Her deep-dyed violet surcoat and indigo gown were a little worse for the journey, frayed at the cuffs and trodden on at the hem; but a little outward shabbiness could not trouble the serenity of her splendor. Her servant was sodden and bedraggled from the stormy night, but the Lady Trenara seemed not to have walked under the same rain. She was a vision, a dream, too perfect for this heavy world of mud and work and loss. Her knowing dark eyes were measureless as the star-filled ocean of the night sky, her smile as mysterious as the Hidden Goddess, her high forehead unmarred by a wrinkle of earthly care. Her glossy black hair was wet, but no less lovely for that, falling in loose curls over her perfect shoulder and breast. Tall and slim as a young tree, she might be a sylph, a spirit of the wood. But more than that, she seemed to me a spirit of pure air, for she moved with a fluid, effortless grace as though there were no weight of earth in her whole body.

They set a place for her--oh unmerited gift of the gods!--beside me. Ennes kept leaning over me to look at her, and I suppose I must have looked equally silly to other eyes, but she did not laugh at us.

"Have you had a long journey?" I asked, trying to draw her out.

"Ah, yes. Very long." She paused, black lashes drooping on her fair cheek, as though these words stirred some secret thought in her, before returning to the conversation. "Have you?"

"From the Abbey of St. Tarvi in Annelon to the Lake-Shrine of St. Fiern, and halfway back. Long enough, I think."

"Long enough," she sighed. She looked as though she'd have spoken more, but the servant Hwyn returned then with food for her and distracted us by waiting on Trenara with great energy and little direction, cutting meat on her plate, buttering bread, jostling me and her lady, arranging the food fussily on the plate. She rarely seemed to look at her work, and spilled a good deal. Trenara took it in good part, smiling her thanks, ignoring the grubby fingers on her meat and the crumbs in her servant's hair, waiting patiently till Hwyn had finished fussing before beginning her meal, as serene as a painted image on a temple wall. I was half surprised to see that she did eat, nibbling delicately at a pale half-moon of fine white bread.

"Why did you leave home?" Trenara asked me.

"You mean the monastery?" I asked, and she nodded. "It's not really home anymore," I said. "I've left the Order for life. I went to the Mirror of St. Fiern in hope of finding a new calling. Have you ever been to the Lake-Shrine?"

She shook her head.

"They say some have wept for joy at what they saw in the waters, and others laughed aloud. One merchant gave away his fortune because of a vision in St. Fiern's Mirror. A knight-at-arms cast his sword into the waters, never to fight again. Only last year a woman left her husband at the Mirror's bidding, and even the priests dared not call it sin. They say there that children have looked into the waters and walked away strangely grown; that the old and hardened have come away childlike."
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

The Eye of Night

Q:What do you find most compelling about the fantasy genre?

A:Fantasy is about emotional realities: for example, most of us today don’t literally believe in ghosts, but when we read a ghost story about a dead father haunting his living children, or a murder victim haunting the murderer, most of us sense a certain rightness to the story. There’s always emotional unfinished business after a death, and it’s easy to imagine the dead hanging around to finish it off. Fantasy is like that: it expresses the truths of the heart.

Q:In The Eye of Night, you write about a religion with four gods. Is it based on any religion in the real world?

A:I borrow a little from mythology, here and there. The Upside-Down God, for example, started with the Hanged Man card in the Tarot deck. The Rising God, revealer of riddles, discovers the runes, like Odin, and carves them on a beech tree, of course, because the Anglo-Saxon word for beech tree was boc, the same as their word for book.

But on another level, the source of this mythology is much closer to home. When I was writing the first draft of The Eye of Night, I was dealing with the death of a close friend, and I needed to yell at God a little. It was easier to yell at a god I had made up. I was reading Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, which presents the idea of a God who does not willingly permit evil but sometimes fails to prevent it, and some of those ideas found their way into my story. Because it draws on Kushner’s ideas, which come from a Jewish perspective, maybe the “pagan” spirituality of the story is part Jewish.

But I also brought to this story my own Catholic heritage. I’ve always thought of Jereth, the ex-priest of the Rising God, as an ex-Jesuit, with the same restless questing spirit as the most interesting Jesuits and ex-Jesuits I’ve known. The Upside-Down God may be part Odin hanging from a tree, a sacrifice to himself, and part Dionysus, god of wine and irrational ecstasy, but he also bears a more than a passing resemblance to Jesus as seen through the eyes of liberation theology: persecuted by his own priests, mocked and beaten, turning the world upside-down so that the high and mighty are cast down and the lowly lifted up.

The Catholic consciousness also shows up in themes of sacrifice and forgiveness. Ultimately, my narrator, Jereth, must learn to forgive a lifetime of wrongs: to forgive his family, his enemies, and himself; even to forgive the gods for the tragedies they have failed to prevent. Only by forgiving can he escape the stagnation that has swallowed his life. I didn’t understand this idea until I wrote the story, and I don’t think I could have discovered it without the story. Fantasy tells truths that we may not be ready to discover in any other language.

Creating the book’s imaginary religion was a voyage of discovery on which I learned more about what I really believe. The Gods of the World-Wheel don’t really care about being worshiped: they care about life. They created the world, and continue to create it, out of love for each other and for all that lives. They don’t need worship for their own sakes; rather, human beings need it, because by worship, humans can attune themselves to the love of the gods and share in their life-giving power. In the end, that is what I believe God must be like: not a ruler who demands to be loved and respected above all others, but a source of love inviting all to share in abundant life.

Q:Why is religion so prominent in The Eye of Night?

A:I think that fantasy literature is inherently religious, and that badly conceived fantasy often fails by not taking its cosmology seriously enough to present a consistent vision. Religion and fantasy both speak to the deepest longings of our hearts for meaning in the universe, for hope in the face of inevitable mortality, for a loving face to an impersonal natural world. All the best fantasies address the great questions of religion and myth: Why are we born? Why do we die? Is there a deity, and if there is, does that deity care about us? Why would a caring God permit so much suffering? Is there an underlying meaning to the universe? Do we really choose our actions, or are we pawns of fate or heredity? What is a good life? How should we resolve difficult questions of morality, when one good must be sacrificed for another?

Q:What do you want readers to take out of The Eye of Night?

A:Hope. I believe that all religion, and therefore all fantasy, takes part in a great battle against despair. Too often the world around us tells us there’s no hope: that leaders are all corrupt; that ideals are all too naive to take root in reality; that we live in a universe that doesn’t care about us; that we can’t do anything about the injustice in the world; that life’s a bitch and then you die and there’s nothing afterward. Maybe the voices of despair are right — but there’s nothing to be gained by believing them, even so. We need to hope. Without hope, there’s no life. This book is about hope in the face of tragedy. If it can help one person to hope, the book is a success.

Q:Besides the obvious influence on any contemporary fantasy author — Tolkien, of course — which other authors have influenced your writing?

I love Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy, with its mystical, dreamlike tone, which opened my mind to different models of fantasy writing than Tolkien’s. Ursula Le Guin’s essay on writing heroic fantasy, From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, helped me see how important verbal style is in creating a fictional world that can give the reader a sense of being transported to another level of reality.

I am strongly influenced by a nineteenth-century fantasist, William Morris, author of The Well at the World’s End and other books that imitate medieval sagas and romances. Morris was a socialist who imagined a more egalitarian world in the middle ages — a world that never really existed, but makes a powerful fantasy because it appeals to deep longings for justice and freedom.

Outside the fantasy genre, I think I have been most influenced by Charles Dickens. My favorite Dickens characters are the ones I think of as his freaks: women who didn’t need to conform to the bland ideal of his heroines because they were somehow set apart from normal society, like eccentric Aunt Betsy in David Copperfield and Jenny Wren in Our Mutual Friend. Hwyn in The Eye of Night is akin to these Dickensian freaks, set apart from society by her physical deformity and her gift of prophecy.

Q:Did your graduate studies in medieval literature influence The Eye of Night?

Indirectly, they influenced it a great deal, because whenever I couldn’t make any headway on my research, I would start writing a story. I did some wonderfully productive procrastination in gradual school. And yes, I did mean gradual school: seven years of my life cast away without attaining my goal, like Jereth’s years in the Tarvon Order.

Direct influences are rarer. There’s a story-within-a-story based on the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, and of course there are many Anglo-Saxon names throughout the novel. One character tells a riddle based on a selection from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book. (A much better Anglo-Saxonist borrowed a different Anglo-Saxon riddle for The Hobbit.) But more than suggesting plot elements, I think my studies simply fed my imagination — or perhaps mulched it, laid down old leaves that settled and decayed in my subconscious mind until new growth sprang from the soil. On second thought, maybe those seven years of graduate school weren’t wasted after all.

Praise

Praise

PRAISE FOR THE EYE OF NIGHT:
One has to go back to the works of R.A. Lafferty to find another fantasy in which an apocalypse means not the end of everything or the begnning of a harsh and cruel world, but rather the beginning of new heavens and new earth. The Eye of the Night is an ingenious and exhilirating story with an indomitable woman protagonist.
-Andrew Greeley, author of The Bishop in the West Wing

"In her debut novel, Ms. Alama delivers crisp dialogue, wonderful writing full of pathos and surprises, and clearly presents a complicated theology integral to the story."
--Romantic Times

"an enjoyable and pleasantly different fantasy."
--Locus Magazine

"A very good, engaging tale...a masterful first novel."
--Rendezvous

"Martin's fans and lovers of Lois McMaster Bujold's CURSE OF CHALION should enjoy this tale...full of everyday human eccentricity."
--Booklist

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