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Myst: the Book of Ti'ana, 1996
This is the second of the three fantasy novels published so far to flesh out the background story of Cyan's best-selling computer games, Myst and Riven, created by the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller. Written by Rand with the collaboration of David Wingrove, it deals with the meeting and marriage of the D'ni grandfather and human grandmother of Atrus, the leading character in Myst, and with the tragic destruction of the D'ni civilization in its deep cavern somewhere on Earth (or on the Earth of an "alternate universe").
In this reader's opinion, the Book of Ti'ana is the most successful of the three. A well-told and interesting story, it can stand on its own without reference to the games or the other two novels in the series; hence it may also appeal to fantasy fans who are unfamiliar with Myst or Riven. The unobtrusive third-person narrative viewpoint shifts between the major characters with occasional rudimentary stream-of-consciousness passages. The prose is clear and correct, the characterization minimal but marked enough to lend individuality to the protagonists, and the plot flows smoothly to its disastrous conclusion. Only Ti'ana and her son Gehn, who will later father Atrus, escape the devastation of the fabulous underground city of D'ni.
The D'ni Guild of Surveyors is engaged in building a tunnel up to the surface for exploration of the world above and possible contact with its inhabitants. The project is controversial and was long opposed by the D'ni governing Council, but the young, progressively-minded Guildsman Aitrus is proud to be participating in the historic event. Corridors are hewn through the rock with special D'ni technology and a great shaft is built. But when all is ready for the ceremony of opening the final access to the outside world, a violent earthquake shatters much of the work and the D'ni decide to seal the tunnel and abandon the task. During the upheaval Aitrus saves the life of the young Lord Veovis, who has recently sought his friendship although there had been no particular warm feeling between them in former days.
Meanwhile, on the surface, Anna and her father have been surveying the desert and its rock outcrops for precious minerals. They have recently discovered an intriguing cave and a puzzling circle of stones that strangely look as if they had been arranged from below the ground. Anna's father is said to have spent his childhood "back in Europe," but Anna was born in the desert where her mother later perished in an accident. The father falls ill and Anna herself delivers his final report to the local authority who employs them. When her father dies Anna has nowhere to go, but determines to satisfy her curiosity about the cave before leaving the area for whatever future life she can make for herself. Needless to say, she wanders deep into the earth and on into the extensive D'ni tunnel system, becomes lost, and is eventually captured.
The D'ni are not totally without experience of other peoples, but that experience has led them to consider such races as manifestly inferior. Anna's captors discover with disbelief that she is highly intelligent and capable of quickly mastering their language. When she is brought before the Council of the ruling Lords and Guildsmen to answer their questions, it is agreed to make an exception to their normal rule and permit her to dwell among them. And it is Aitrus' family who take her in.
Up to this point the plot proceeds without complications, but now the friendship of Aitrus and Veovis comes to the fore. Veovis has been among those who denigrate Anna as an animal and a savage, yet there are subtle hints that he is also wordlessly, perhaps shamefully, attracted to her. Nor does he always treat her unkindly, although seeking to avoid her presence. Anna is chiefly occupìed with learning the customs of this strange underground society and solving its mysteries. Where have they come from? Where do they get their food? With amazement she learns that the D'ni are not at all confined to their vast cavern. They travel, they know sunlight, they range among thousands of worlds by the most remarkable of their crafts, the Art of Writing. Veovis is a promising member of the Guild of Writers. Using ink and paper manufactured by secret Guild processes, and a special form of the D'ni language, the Writers create Books describing and "linking" to other worlds, worlds that Aitrus says "do exist, or have existed, or shall" somewhere in the vastnesss of the universe. It is by visiting such worlds that the D'ni have gained their knowledge of "inferior" humanoids similar to themselves.
Contravening the rules, Aitrus introduces the outsider Anna to the Art, for which she shows talent. As they spend more and more time together, both Aitrus and Anna become aware of the deepening bond of affection developing between them. But when Aitrus seeks official permission to marry Anna, who has been given the D'ni name Ti'ana (story-teller), Veovis adamantly opposes the match and blackballs Aitrus before the Council. Aitrus is forced to appeal to Veovis in private, reminding him of a pledge he gave in return for Aitrus' saving his life. Thereupon Veovis loyally yields to Aitrus' request, but the friendship between the two has been fatally strained. Estranged, their occasional political divergences in the Council become ever sharper.
Enter the villain, a "defrocked" guildsman named A'Gaeris who is an accomplished forger. A'Gaeris has forfeited his status and privileges, has been reduced to the lowest ranks of D'ni society, and is seething with hatred, resentment, and a desire for revenge. He shrewdly and cynically takes advantage of the rift between Aitrus and Veovis to achieve his ends. To reveal exactly how A'Gaeris manipulates both men and eventually recruits an embittered Veovis to his cause would be to tell too much: all the drama of the novel lies here and it makes an exciting story. The rigid, stagnant D'ni society proves surprisingly easy to topple once Veovis casts aside his scruples and joins A'Gaeris in an onslaught of crime and sabotage. In the end, only two survivors remain to flee to the desert on the surface above. "Here," Ti'Ana says to the child Gehn in the refuge where she lived long ago with her father. "We'll begin again here."
© Wordreign, July 1999
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