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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Atlan series, which was especially popular with readers in Jane Gaskell’s native Great Britain, contains her later novels, but it is tangentially connected to one of her first, King’s Daughter (1958), another story about Atlantis. All the books in this series are action-packed; the plot summary above describes only a fraction of Cija’s experiences.

Some reviewers consider the Atlan series to be a mixture of heroic fantasy and popular romance, presumably because of the high quotient of sex and adventure, on one hand, and the female hero, on the other. Cija, however, is unlike the typical romance heroine. She never experiences an emotion that she would call “true love”; she either succumbs to an enervating lust for Smahill or passively allows herself to be ruled by Zerd. The closest Cija comes to love is her relationship with Ung-g, and even this began with kidnapping and imprisonment. Cija’s life with Ung-g is more of a primitive satisfaction of physical and emotional need than the love that grows between the protagonists of a romance novel.

Furthermore, the romance heroine’s ultimate quest is to be joined with another. Cija’s quest is the opposite: to stand on her own and to cease being a pawn of others. Rather than seeking out the special personality that will mesh perfectly with her own, one of Cija’s most important goals is to give up her personality so that she can become a true companion rather than a clingy lover.

The Atlan series might better be thought of as the inverse of the “sword-and-sinew” subgenre of high fantasy. The books feature the requisite amounts of hand-to-hand combat, explicit sex, and (for the most part) flat characters. The emphasis is on action, not ideas, and the language is matter-of-fact, not lyrical.

Cija, however, is the opposite of the barbarian hero. Although nobly, even divinely, born, she rarely wins her battles. Her sojourns into poverty do not ennoble or strengthen her; instead, they extinguish her beauty, sap her health, and dull her will to survive. The physical magnetism she possesses does not bring her success—it causes her to be raped by nearly every man she meets. Her many adventures do not bring her wisdom. Seka, instead, learns by the experiences that her mother...

(The entire section is 567 words.)