It is a hopeful sign of a growing maturity in
the field of SF&F in New Zealand that this work of fantasy doesnt feel the need
to scream "I am a New Zealand novel" although it was both written and published
here. Instead it whispers its kiwi roots in references to such things as feijoas and punga
trees, which Im sure is entirely deliberate. In fact, I suspect that a great deal of
deliberation has gone into the writing of The Sovereign Hand, in
its clever and carefully measured prose, its meticulous setting, and memorable characters.
That setting is quite unusual, an amalgam of High Fantasy and Steampunk,
where science and magic both work, and can therefore happily pit guns and explosives
against eldritch creatures of magic. And not just that, it is a socially and politically
evolved magical society where non-human sentients like gobelins, drakes and taureans are
being steadily integrated into the Primacy. Theres a reason why most fantasy authors
maintain their societies at the pseudo-medieval its comfortable and familiar,
a whole lot easier on both writer and reader. Gilbert has dared to be different, to do the
difficult thing, and by and large, he succeeds. But its not always an easy read.
He likes to play with words, digging into odd lexicographical corners, and
coining new words of his own, which can occasionally confound the reader. Never mind, this
is a grand and highly original work of fantasy, a complete and exciting story in one
volume (not just one in an interminable series of boring bricks).
The story centres around a group of variously talented young people, some
more likeable than others, all of whom are called to defend the Primacy against the latest
in a series of disasters called Galls. After a somewhat boggy start, the plot really gets
going when the Hand are brought together and they go through the portal called the
Gherensgate to find their fate. But after they return to Thorn they find that its
only the beginning, and then the story inexorably begins to build to a truly spectacular
Definitely recommended, and quite possibly one of the best works of
fantasy ever published in New Zealand.