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The Golden Key Hardcover – September 1, 1996

53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

The authors have devised a fascinating setting based on medieval Italian, Spanish and Portuguese models for a novel of love and power -- both political and sorcerous. This is one of the few genre books I've seen in which an effort is made to take religion into account as a social force, though, even here, it's watered down. The story spans centuries and centers on the limner Sario Grijalva, whose love for the arts he has mastered is corrupted by his egotism. Grijalva's ruthless use of sorcery can, however, be thwarted by chance events, and this novel thus avoids the pitfall of the unbelievably powerful (and dull) character. Many stories -- love stories, Machiavellian thrillers, coming-of-age stories and stories of magic -- are tightly wound together in this suspenseful, enthralling one-volume trilogy (yes! you get the whole story in one book!); the painterly focus is unusual and interesting, too.

From Publishers Weekly

The three Musketeers they're not, but judging by their finished product, the three authors who have collaborated on this hefty historical fantasy comprise a competent team. In exploring the relationships among art, magic and morality, Rawn (The Ruins of Ambrai), Roberson (the Cheysuli series) and Elliot (the Jaran series) have tried to create a novel that is seamless yet preserves their individual literary personalities. The narrative covers three generations in the mythical history of Tira Virte; each generation's story seems the work primarily of one of the three authors. For centuries, Tira Virte's do'Verrada Dukes have been manipulated by the gifted Grijalva family. Selected Grijalva women become First Mistresses, while male Grijalva artist-magicians, the sterile Limners, can direct human lives by incorporating their own vital juices into their pigments, a practice that causes them to die young and in agony. Unifying the book is the Machiavellian Limner Sario Grijalva, who achieves unnaturally long life by successively murdering 16 men and taking over their bodies. The novel begins with "Chieva do'Sangua," apparently by Rawn, which competently depicts Sario's daring youth, his domination of Tira Virte as Lord Limner and his complex desire for his equally talented artist-cousin Saavedra. This introduces the major theme of women whose biological imperatives conflict with the demands of their talents. Foiled by Saavedra's love for the handsome Duke Alejandro, Sario magically imprisons Saavedra in a ravishing portrait. "Chieva do'Sihirro," which displays Roberson's hand, is more pedestrian in concept, detailing Sario's incognito political engineering 300 years hence. Finally, the colorful "Chieva do'Orro" tidies up Tira Virte a generation later, bloodlessly establishing a constitutional government, releasing Saavedra from her enchantment and punishing Sario's villainy with a unique revenge that opens a door to shared-universe sequels. Perhaps Sario's last words here best sum up this long and involved experimental saga: "remember patience." Authors tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: DAW Hardcover (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0886776910
  • ISBN-13: 978-0886776916
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,651,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joy Fleisig on February 12, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A brilliant painter's ambition to become the greatest artist who ever lived - and unnaturally extend his life long enough to do so - causes him to pervert his family's magics in this wonderful and highly original fantasy from bestselling authors Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliot. In a setting similar to medieval/Renaissance Spain or Italy (one of my favorite historical periods), the authors create here a magnificent canvas of beauty, love, bravery, cruelty, treachery, jealousy, political infighting, religious pageantry, war, plague, revolution, and, of course, artistic genius. As others have commented, this is not the standard 'hero/heroine on a quest' or 'wizard waves wand' fantasy, and all the richer for it.
In the duchy of Tira Virte works of art are not only valued for their beauty, but are used in lieu of written legal documents for treaties, wills, marriages, etc. One family of painters, the Grijalvas, have the secret of using magic to alter the reality that they depict in their paintings. The Gifted Limners (all male, with one exception) who have this power use their own body fluids to activate the spells, so they age and die very quickly, and are sterile. The Grijalvas also have to endure popular prejudice and religious discrimination because are descendants of Tza'ab bandits who raped Tira Virtean noblewomen. As well, they have to put up with the machinations of their rival family, the Serranos. Still, the Gifted Limners use their skills to bring peace and prosperity to Tira Virte and to support the rule of the do'Verrada ducal family.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 2, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I almost forgot I'd read this book, but reading these reviews brings it all back. This was such an amazing novel that I still can't quite believe how good it was. I've rarely come across such complex and realistic worldbuilding, or character definition, or plot complexity and reality. Sario and Saavedra, as well as certain of the others, will always be etched in my consciousness, but I think even more deeply I will carry the conjured memories of Grijalva art. I think these three brilliant women touched on something very true in this book when they limited their magic theme to the magic of art. I don't really believe in spells and magicians etc but I definately believe that the creative font of humanity if magical, and the more people that realise that the better.
For those who found the alternate European world entrancing, I recommend Guy Gavriel Kay's books. While best known for his Fionavar Tapestry, his stand alone novels are his best work. These are set largely in alternate Europes - Spain at the end of the Moorish tenure, France on the eve of the Albigensian crusade, Italy at the close of the Renaissance, and Byzantium in its heyday are some of the realities he takes and creates something new and amazing from. Additionally, those fascinated by the artistic focus in Golden Key may be fascinated by the role that music and poetry play in Kay's novels. The religion query of another reviewer bought to mind Tad William's Memory Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, but the religion in that series was never so emphatic as in Golden Key. Any responses to this review are welcome!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By N. Clarke on March 2, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was attracted to this book by Melanie Rawn's involvement, having enjoyed her Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies a great deal for their dry wit, excellent characterisation and compelling plotting. I had only a vague idea of what it was about before I started reading - but once I did, I was completely entranced.

The multi-generational novel is set in a world with a strong feel of Renaissance or early modern Spain. While never leaning too much on its real-world counterpart, the inspiration permeates all levels, immeasurably enriching the book. It is glimpsed most obviously in the characters' names, fashions and the oaths that pepper their speech. More subtly, it infuses the religious practices, behaviour (there is a strong emphasis on family honour and female modesty), and recent history - the novel opens a little after a long war with a religiously-inclined nomadic people, an obvious but not overstated parallel with the Moors.

The central conceit of the novel lies in the social and administrative role of portraiture in the state of Tira Verte, where it is used to record everything from marriage contracts to wills to treaties between nations. Those whose paintings are most highly valued enjoy considerable political and personal influence, and their style becomes something to imitate by those who follow them. A few, in secret, are able to wield more than mere influence with their brushes.

The story follows the fortunes of two noble families, and the consequences of one rashly destructive act (try to ignore the synopsis on the back of the book, which gives this act away), through several generations. Throughout, not only the story but also the world progress naturally and fascinatingly, as artistic fashions change and the society develops and diversifies.
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