If you are a fan of any one (or all) of the writers involved in this fascinating collaboration, this book is quite simply a must-read, even though it is very different from anything they have produced on their own. And if you’re not a fan, you should probably try it anyhow, because The Golden Key is a truly good and original book, far removed from your standard fantasy. It also features one of the cleverest covers (painted by Michael Whelan) I’ve ever seen.
The setting is a fascinating alternative Europe, the duchy of Tira Virte, where every event of importance is immortalized through a painting and where the mixed-blood Grijalvas both profit from and suffer under their very special Gift. For where others can simply record what is in their paintings, some of the Grijalva men can actually paint what will be, affecting and not merely copying reality with their paintings. But the price is high, for the same blood which gives them this Gift also weakens them, leading many of them to die young and fewer and fewer to be born each year.
Overall, it makes for a fascinating tale of genius and lovelorn madness in a setting filled with a rich and mysterious historical background based in part on Spanish history and culture. Covering a very long span of time, the novel is also one of the very few in its genre to show real lasting social and political change, moving from something rather medieval to a more modern constitutional monarchy. Notably, it was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and it certainly deserved that accolade. It’s not all swords and high adventure, but it’s a subtler and more rewarding read than you’re likely to find.