The Ninth Talisman is the second volume in a fantasy trilogy known as the Annals of the Chosen. The hardcover of The Ninth Talisman was published by Tor in May of 2007, ISBN 978-0-7653-1027-9, cover price $25.95. The paperback was published in May 2008 -- ISBN 978-0-7653-4902-6, cover price $7.99. The ebook appeared in April 2008, and the trade paperback edition in October 2014.
The spiffy cover art, by Raymond Swanland, is to the right. This is the hardcover version; other editions have the same art, but the colors may be shifted a bit. Click on the image for a closer look.
Originally "The Ninth Talisman" was going to be the title of the third volume in the series, and the second was going to be The Summer Palace. They switched. Believe me, it works better this way.
The Ninth Talisman opens a few years after the end of The Wizard Lord, and follows the further adventures of Erren Zal Tuyo, formerly known as Breaker and now called Sword, as the new Wizard Lord makes some changes in how Barokan operates.
I should probably warn you -- it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with things that are only resolved in The Summer Palace.
I can't really say much more than that without spoiling some surprises, so I'll just provide a bit of the Prologue as a teaser:
The Ninth Talisman
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
His true name began Erren Zal Tuyo kam Darig seveth Tirinsir abek Du, but the people of Mad Oak, in Longvale, did not use true names, for fear of the power they granted. He had grown up with the nickname Breaker, but after he took on the role of the Chosen Swordsman even his family and closest friends came, in time, to call him Sword. He was a big man -- "Breaker" had reflected not his temperament, but his awkwardness before his coordination caught up with his growth -- but now that he had reached his full height and become comfortable with his size, he moved with speed, grace, and assurance.
Some of that grace doubtlessly came from his magic, of course. The ler of muscle and steel had made him the world's greatest swordsman as part of the complicated pact that gave the Wizard Lord authority over all Barokan, and that gave the eight Chosen the right to remove the Wizard Lord, by any means necessary, should he violate the limits set upon his power.
He had played his role as Swordsman, and had slain the Dark Lord of the Galbek Hills, a Wizard Lord gone mad. He had played his part, and then he had returned home to Mad Oak.
And now, three years after the Dark Lord's death, Sword sat in the pavilion talking with Younger Priestess, one of the three individuals in the town who could communicate with the spirits of land and life and thereby keep Mad Oak habitable. Without Priest, Elder Priestess, and Younger Priestess, there would be no one to coax the soil into yielding crops, no one to convince game to allow hunters to kill it, no one to keep the wild ler beyond the borders from encroaching on the town.
That sometimes meant that the priestesses had little time to spare to talk to other humans; talking to the ler kept them busy. For the moment, though, on a cold night in early winter, after most of the town's inhabitants had gone home to huddle in their beds, Younger Priestess had found time to speak quietly with Sword in the town's deserted pavilion.
After all, human souls were ler, too, and sometimes needed a priestess's attention.
The two of them sat on the edge of the great stone hearth, the remains of a fire flickering amid the ashes behind them, keeping the worst of the winter's chill at bay. Most of the lanterns had gone out; a few still glimmered by the door, but most of the vast interior was dim and shadowed. The glowing sigil on the priestess's forehead, the sign of the ler's favor, shone vividly gold in the darkness.
They sat quietly for several minutes after the last other people had left, but eventually Younger Priestess broke the silence.
"You don't seem happy, Sword," she said. "Your soul is clouded."
He shrugged without looking directly at her. "I am well enough," he said.
"Well enough? No more than that?"
He turned to face her directly. "Should I be more than that?"
"Why not? Your sisters are more than just well enough. I see Harp's soul shining like the dawn when her fingers are on the strings and the drums are beating, or when she thinks about the child she is to bear. Fidget's soul leaps like a flame when she watches the boys at play, and Spider's dances in delight when she runs through the streets with her playmates. Your mother is still weighed down by your father's death, and by your role among the Chosen, and the knowledge that you aren't happy, so hers is clouded as well. Time will help with her sorrows, but yours? I don't know what causes them, so I don't know if time will disperse or thicken them. I would like to dispel those clouds, if I can."
"I doubt you can," Sword said, turning away again. "After all, I killed a man; shouldn't my soul be darkened forever by such an act?"
"But he was a murderer and a madman, a Dark Lord who deserved nothing but death," Younger Priestess said. "You played your role well."
"A role I no longer believe should exist," Sword said.
"Oh?" Younger Priestess frowned. "You think you should pass the role of Swordsman on to another?"
"No, I didn't say I shouldn't be the Swordsman; I said the role shouldn't exist at all. I don't think there should be a Swordsman."
Her frown deepened. "But then who would slay a new Dark Lord, should one arise? Do you think the Archer and the other Chosen could do as well without a Swordsman?"
"There shouldn't be any Chosen. There shouldn't be any Dark Lords. There shouldn't be any more Wizard Lords."
"No Wizard Lord? But then who would keep the other wizards in check?"
"No one. The other wizards are no longer a threat. There hasn't been a rogue wizard in centuries."
"Because we have the Wizard Lord to prevent them!"
"But there are so few wizards left, we don't need a Wizard Lord!"
She stared at him for a moment, then said, "You don't know what you're talking about."
Startled, he turned and stared back.
"Haven't you learned your ballads?" she asked him. "The Siege of Blueflower? The Slaughter at Goln Vleys?"
"I know the songs," Sword replied, a trifle sullenly. "That was a long time ago. There were hundreds of wizards back then; there aren't even two dozen left today."
"One is all it takes to cause trouble."
"How much trouble can one ordinary wizard cause?"
Again, she stared at him in silence for a moment. Then she said, "Did you know that a wizard once came here, to what's now Mad Oak, intent on carrying off women for his harem? One wizard, and that was enough to cause havoc."
Startled, Sword said, "A rogue wizard came here? Is there a song?"
"No, no song. No story. Just a memory, from long ago, before there was any Wizard Lord to protect us."
"What? A memory? But there have been Wizard Lords for seven hundred years."
"And this happened perhaps eight hundred years ago, before the Council of Immortals chose the first Wizard Lord, centuries before the Mad Oak first grew, when the village here had no name of its own."
"Then how can there be a memory? No one lives eight hundred years."
"No person does, but ler can, and ler can be made to pass along memories, from one priestess to another. One of my ancestors, the one who defeated that wizard, thought it was important that the story should be passed along, and she had no faith in human storytellers. She feared they would clutter the truth up with dashing heroics and grand speeches, so instead she gave her memories to the ler of the hearthstone in the village shrine, and each priestess since has received them from the stone in her turn."
"So this lone priestess defeated a rogue wizard? That hardly makes it seem as if he was much of a threat. What happened?"
"I told you my ancestor did not trust human storytellers; I will not betray her trust by playing the part of one. If you would like to know what it was like, what she did and thought and felt, then come with me now, down to the shrine, and I will let you remember it for yourself."
"You can do that?"
"I think so, yes. Perhaps not for just anyone, but you are one of the Chosen, bound to ler, so I think the hearthstone will let you receive it."
Sword tried to look into her eyes, to read the expression there, but the surrounding darkness and the glow of the mark on her brow made it impossible to see anything there but blackness.
"All right," he said. "Show me, then."
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: