Published in Issue 23 of Visionary Tongue, Winter 2007.

I’m sure you must have heard the old adage, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. Please bear this in mind when you pick up a copy of Bridge of Dreams: this book is not the arabesque romance it might seem, though I do expect you to fall in love at first read…

The cities of Maras and Sund have been, until relatively recent times, separated by the river. But not any more. The Marasi have conjured a bridge across the water, powered by the dreams of children who have been sacrificed to the bridge by their noble families in order to maintain the Marasi’s empirical hold over the conquered Sund… and in the true fashion of empire, the Marasi rule like tyrants.

The narrative unfolds from the viewpoints of two young people who have grown up on either side of the divide: Issel, a Sundain beggar boy, who worries that living in proximity to the magic-polluted waters of the Shine will deform him, but is nonetheless compelled by poverty to eke out his existence there, trying to avoid the wrath of Marasi soldiers. He is also becoming increasingly aware of how he can perform the forbidden water magic, but so are the rebels who don’t want the people of the Sund to passively accept occupation, and would use Issel’s powers for their cause.

Jendre, the daughter of a Marasi nobleman favoured by the Sultan is certain her fate is to be sacrificed to the bridge, and is horrified when her little sister, Sidië is taken instead. Her father has more ambitious plans for Jendre, and she must live with the knowledge that her sister is trapped and doomed to madness, dreaming the bridge, not so far away from where she is confined as the lowest wife in the Sultan’s harem.

This is a rich story, all the richer for Brenchley’s beautiful writing, which conveys the sense of powerful magic building up, and beguiles the senses with opulence. The power relations between the people of Maras and Sund, which I have somewhat simplified here, lead to a subtle discussion on found and created freedoms, and the nature of terrorism. Brenchley does not neglect the pace, and the two narratives drive compellingly towards the inevitable intertwining of the two protagonist’s worlds, which we can safely assume will happen in the second book, River of the World, which I look forward to reading immensely.

ISBN: 978-0441014088

Review by Donna Scott