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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beyond the Gap by Harry Turtledove

Beyond the Gap by Harry Turtledove. New York: Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-765-31710-0

Here we have good old Harry Turtledove at his very best. Harry is usually known for his alternate history stories, based on such fascinating premises as, what if the South had won the Civil War, or what if we'd been invaded by aliens only just a little more technologically advanced than us, right as World War II was breaking out? Turtledove uses ideas like these to spin out multi-volume series that keep his readers coming back for each new installment.

But here, we have instead, a pre-historical fantasy, sort of, set way back near the end of the last great ice age, as the ice sheet begins to recede, year by year and decade by decade, until one day, it splits in two, and the intrepid nomads who live nearest the glacier are able to travel through it to the other side.

New lands, new animals, and presumably new people. In fact, the people on the other side appear superior in several ways. They RIDE on the mastodons, not just herding them. And their wizards seem to be more powerful than those in the south. Magic does seem to work in this particular universe Turtledove has set up. One has to wonder: if it's supposed to be our own prehistory, then how does he expect to explain the magic? Maybe like Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle do in The Magic Goes Away stories. See my comments on Burning Tower.

All of this, however, is merely the background for an engaging story about a hardy band of explorers, sent by the emperor, from the “civilized” lands to the south. There's Count Hamnet, plucky, solid man of action, whose psyche has been wounded by his previous marriage to a beautiful, but faithless woman.

Also, they need a scholar. The emperor wants them to look for the Golden Shrine, a fabled repository of God's presence on the earth. So they need someone who is an expert on the legends associated with the Shrine, and who do they come up with but the current husband of Count Hamnet's ex-wife! Naturally she manages to bring herself along on the expedition.

Plus they have a wizard, and a professional cutthroat, spy and general rogue-at-arms, who actually claims to have been through the gap himself before. Led by the jarl (headman) of the northernmost of the nomadic barbarian tribes that live closest to the glacier, who brought word of the gap in the iceberg to the attention of the emperor, this motley crew embarks on a truly epic adventure, told in Turtledove's inimitable style. As is also typical of Turtledove, we are left hanging at the end of the novel, with events sufficiently unresolved that we naturally expect one or more sequels.

Highly recommended for all Turtledove fans, and for anyone who enjoys a good prehistory tale.


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