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Threshold    by Sara Douglass order for
by Sara Douglass
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (1997)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A young woman grows up in northern Viland as a talented apprentice to her glassworker father. After his debts send them both into slavery, they are sold into the hot southern land of Ashdod, whose Magi have been engaged in building an ominous pyramid, Threshold, to complete a dark magic.

The young and powerful Magus Boaz gives the girl a new name, Tirzah. She has an astounding inborn ability to 'cage', that is to 'free lacework from the inner walls of glass' and to hear its voices. Boaz suspects her of being an Elemental, able to communicate with the Soulenai of the Place Beyond. At the worker's compound of Gesholme below the pyramid, Tirzah joins a small community of artisan/rebel slaves. She is befriended by Isphet, loved by Yaqob, and learns to fear the evil that animates Threshold.

It becomes clear that the pyramid needs to feed. It takes its own sacrifices in increasing prime numbers, its methods also growing in horror each time. Its completion will build a bridge to something awful, 'a place of darkness and despair'. Then Boaz takes over at the site and demands Tirzah's continual presence. She discovers two very different sides to his personality. The Magus is brutal and obsessed with Threshold, but the man can be caring, and slowly wins her affections.

Tirzah's new feelings put her in a difficult position with her friends, who suspect betrayal. When the pyramid is finished and its horrors unleashed, an unlikely group flees. It includes slaves and their hated master Boaz, as well as his half-brother Zabrze, who is heir to Ashdod. They are pursued by stone monsters created by Threshold, whose need to feed is ever growing. Isphet's people provide refuge in a remarkable Abyss city, and training, which allows them to take the fight back to Ashdod. There a sacrifice is needed.

Sara Douglass displays her usual remarkable imaginative ability in Threshold, which is a loosely Egyptian fantasy, heavy on the horror. And as usual her heroine takes a great deal of abuse, and faces difficult choices up to the very end of the book.

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