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.
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.