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Retrospective: Paula Volsky

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The Sorceror's Lady by Paula Volsky

Mab Morris looks back at the work of Paula Volsky, who also wrote as Paula Brandon, first published in 1982.

Paula Volsky also writes as Paula Brandon; she’s been one of my writing idols since the 1980s.  Among her first books was The Sorcerer’s Lady, and I fell in love with her writing within the first pages.

Lady Verran Verris is a young woman that defied my expectation.  In the opening scenes she’s running away from an arranged marriage with a sorcerer who has a fairly dangerous reputation.  My thoughts were automatically, “Hey, she’s doing the expected! Run away from that arranged marriage!” But while she decided to run away with her paramour, she begins to realize that her romantic ideal is fiction. Realizing how foolish he is, she calls him “an unbalanced boy” and leaves with her father’s servants, and accepts the arranged marriage. 

From that moment I knew that I could not trust anyone to behave as I expected in Volsky’s books. What she wrote could be described as “Not so fast!” It was one of the reasons why I hoped to defy expectations in my own writing (I’m still working on that!).  

Verran becomes the bride of Lord Terrs Fal Grizhini, but he does not force her to join his bed, no matter how dark and dangerous he seems.  When she enters the marriage bed, it is by her choice.  He allows her to make decisions, and to grow as an incredibly strong woman.  And she has to be, because many more forces align against the Grizhini and the people he protects.  

Of course I could tell you more about the plot line, but let’s just say I inhaled her other books, including Illusion.  Then I couldn’t find many of her books after 2000.  She seemed to fall off the face of the fantasy map around the time I had kids.  I stopped reading for a while, which is why I’m thrilled when some of my writing idols either become friends or they decide to republish books long forgotten by readers. 

The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon

Imagine to my delight that she published again as Paula Brandon.  (Thank goodness for writer friends who let me know her books were coming out!). The book was The Traitor’s Daughter, the first of The Veiled Isles Trilogy. Again, Paula Volsky as Brandon shows that she defies convention.  She might put characters in what seem expected scenarios, but she turns them on their tail, and brilliantly writes a novel that draws you in.  

The opening of The Traitor’s Daughter has Grix Orlazzu talking to an automaton he’s created. He calls it Leftover, reads the portents and, frankly, seems to quit his scene.  He’s vaguely repellent, somewhat off putting, and yet… you want to know what happens next.  

I was absolutely curious, and then chapter one started, and another incredibly intriguing plot began.  Jianna Belandor, beautiful, privileged, and the daughter of a supposed traitor. Her father tries to protect her by sending her off, but she’s–well, it is kind of expected—kidnapped.  Yet… don’t let that fool you.  That’s when Jianna really starts to come into her own and defies that expectation.   

Thanks to Orlazzu, we know something bad is about to happen to the world, and we start to see the effects for everyone while the polarity of magic is changing. But Jianna still has to cope with being kidnapped, escaping, and the conflicts her people have against others, and yet all the while there’s that looming magical (and not just magical) threat on everyone. Her reality is changing, as well as her world’s.  

I could relate the entire plot to you, but what I fell in love with was how Paula Volsky/Brandon always made me think “Not so fast!” Her worlds are lush with detail, from the landscape to the magic, and how both interact, even while the characters have these intense lives while that tension goes on around them.  Her works are page turners. 

And for two of her characters that I love, Verran and Jianna, those forces take two young, beautiful and privileged women, and reveal them as women of strength. 

3 thoughts on “Retrospective: Paula Volsky

  1. This is 8 months later but it’s still nice to see something about Paula Volsky Brandon. I am procrastinating in NaNoWriMo by rereading my favorite book by this author, “Illusion”. I have read almost all of her books, just need to get around to buying and reading the last two Sorcerer books. I was given “The Curse of the Witch Queen” as a gift last year, and as much as I made fun of the cover for looking so much like a typical paperback 70s sci-fi/fantasy it was a really great book. All of her books from the very beginning were all such good quality, and continued to be of great quality through the Veiled Isle trilogy. Every couple of months I scour the internet hoping to find something of another book by her being published… But there is no news.
    I have trouble understanding why her books aren’t more famous. I only discovered her books 8-9 years ago when an online friend and I were talking about obscure books we enjoyed as kids and she suggested “Illusion”- I devoured it, and every other book by her that the library had (eventually having to buy the lesser known books like the “Luck of Relian Kru”). As someone who has been a heavy reader since I was small it’s a rare thing to discover such a good author that I had never heard of before and I haven’t had such a reading experience since discovering L’Engle’s Time Quartet-and Volsky-Brandon’s books were even bigger and there were more of them. And really awesome female heroes.
    I hope she surprises me with some more books.

    1. Have you found or read Traitor’s Daughter, and the rest of the series? She does her usual best to start it off with a confusion, but level best on world building after. You have to want to know more. She’s truly brilliant in her work. Not just in world building, but setting a stage. She’s one of my writer heroes.

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