Another book selected by the hubby for my reading pleasure and much more of a fun read than the last one! Considering I really enjoyed Crichton that’s really saying something. [I’m totally not including the OTHER book he recommended that I couldn’t get through because I found it to be such a stinker. Aren’t I nice?] This book is by Marion Zimmer Bradley and is a great example of how to do really awesome world building. Like so many other of her works this is a Darkover novel which means the story is essentially about a planet of telepaths, its history and of course the character’s plight while on said planet.
The story centers around a female scholar named Margaret Alton; daughter of the Darkoven representative to the Terran Imperial senate she has little to no understanding of her past nor even the culture of the planet. Moved from the planet of her birth while still quite young she has spent her life amidst the other planets in the Federation and, when on her own as an adult, began doing studies amongst the worlds as a scholar and assistant in musicology to a man both her surrogate father and mentor. It is through serendipity she winds up on her native planet, little to no memory of it to help, and doing a study on the folk music of the planet. She is plagued by strange dreams, visions, a sense she is hearing people’s thoughts, and an adeptness at a language she could not have had when she left the planet at the age of 6. When her mentor dies she travels into the outer lands of Darkover and away from the Terran city she had landed in only to discover family she never knew and a gift she never wanted.
Our heroine, as it were, is a fully developed character with flaws and a complex psychology that enables the reader to be readily drawn into her perspective. Every step she takes in this foreign home land of hers takes her on a direct path and collision course with memory blocks as well as stories of her father, the senator, she never could even guess at previously. All her issues, when boiled down, are dealt with superbly and in just the right amount of time to be believable and even mesmerizing.
The world building, in addition to the characters is just phenomenal: culture and history of the world is crafted in such a way you never doubt Darkover’s presence nor are left thinking things were left unexplained. It is a fully formed entity and one that practically breathes of its own accord. The only real frustration I have with this tale was the unnecessary beating of the dead horse. Many times you’re treated to the character saying she didn’t want to know something, was afraid of something, has some doubts about something and it gets a bit tedious – especially if you’re used to reading literary fiction where the demands of the reader’s memory are more intense – but the story is so good and rich it’s easy to get wrapped up in the story anyway. In truth you only ever have an inkling what problems the heroine faces until they’re unveiled in such a way you only get a portion of the picture being painted. It’s artful, imaginative and the final portrait is just awesome. Here’s an excerpt from Margaret’s point of view about the planet she has newly arrived to:
She looked toward the small window that pierced the wall. The first red glimmer of sunrise had awakened her, brushing her eyelids like a soft caress. One of the few things her father had ever said about Darkover, she decided, was accurate. She had never really believed it, but it was true; the great red sun of Darkover really was the color of blood. “The bloody sun” was descriptive, not poetic hyperbole.
I truly can’t recommend Marion Zimmer Bradley’s works enough as, quite honestly, I’ve read several of her Darkover novels now and have loved each of them. The stories are stand alone with glimpses into others but are never required for full comprehension of plot or characters. These books, in my own not so humble opinion, are what series should strive to be. I hope you check this author out and, with any luck, enjoy her works as much as I have.