The official plot description is woefully inadequate. In fact, it doesn’t sound anything like the actual plot. So I stole a really good plot description from a reviewer named Carol. Hat tip to Carol.
Wheel of the Infinite centers on Maskelle, a formerly powerful woman who has left her position as her temple divinity’s living Voice in disgrace. Set in a society somewhat loosely based on Tibetan Buddhism, there is a pantheon of gods who have spent time on earth and have returned to the Divine Realms. A core ritual of the combined temples is to recreate the mandala pattern of the lands annually or the land will suffer, and this year marks a crucial hundred-year ceremony. Although Maskelle retains many of her powers from her time as the Voice, she’s been traveling incognito, acting as seer for a traveling theater troupe. While looking for herbs, she discovers a river inn overrun with raiders. Feeling rather ornery, she decides to see if there are any honest folk left to rescue, and she instead discovers a foreign traveler captive to the bandits’ amusements. They mutually rescue each other, discovering an immediate connection. He surreptitiously follows as she leads the troupe to the capital city of the Celestial Empire, until a temporary rouse as her bodyguard leads to a permanent association. Once in the city, Maskelle, her new bodyguard Rian, and the troupe quickly become the focus of local politics, both supernatural and corporeal.
There. That’s more like it.
Again, my main bone to pick with this sorcerer and sandals type story, as with all sorcerer and sandals type fantasies, is the discrepancy between the nifty magic that can be conjured up by the wizards, and the everyday needs of the people. Why is it that wizards can always wage some kind of fantastic war, change people into animals and vice versa, create castles in the air, and magic up some great ethereal phenomenon, but cannot come up with indoor plumbing, central heating, and the combustion engine? Or even the umbrella? The folks in these stories always live in some kind of medieval world with carts and dray animals, use outdoor fires or fireplaces for all their cooking and heating needs, sweat a lot in the heat, freeze themselves silly in the cold weather, and get drenched when it rains.
What good is a wizard if he (or she) can’t heat your damn house or produce a flush toilet?)
This particular book seemed to have a bit of trouble with its internal logic. I can suspend belief quite easily if the entire world and story line follows a consistent logic, but this one seemed to jumble around a lot. First of all, there were the Ancestors, people who have lived so wonderfully that when they died, they became sages to the living, using a living monk or whatchamacallit as their Voice, speaking through them. Our heroine, Maskelle, is the Voice of the top Ancestor, the Adversary. Turns out the Adversary is a little mad, and is trying to kill itself. Very strange. How can that be?
Also, this ‘wheel’, is actually a … ummm… what do you call those maps that are dimensional, with the mountains, elevations and valleys, etc? Physical maps? Topographical? It is made out of sand, painstakingly crafted which takes a year to do. It keeps the world in existence. So if someone messes with it, the world becomes like the messed up version. A little odd and hard to understand.
But it is fantasy, and sort of fun. I think most fantasy fans really liked the book. I was only meh about it, not because it was not well written, but because none of these wizard-y, sorcerer-y people conjured up electricity.