Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review - "Hastur Lord" by Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah J. Ross

Today I have guest reviewer Mark Taylor. Mark is a close friend and a long time reader and fan of science fiction and fantasy and occasional dabbler in urban fantasy. He has previously appeared here at SciFiGuy.ca with reviews of Sherwood Smith's The Fox and Inda. Today he tackles Hastur Lord, the final book in Marion Zimmer Bradley's popular Darkover saga which released January 5. Many readers will undoubtedly have read or be aware of her most well-know work Mists of Avalon (also a personal favourite).

Cover Blurb:
Before her death in 1999, bestselling author Marion Zimmer Bradley began writing what would turn out to be her last Darkover novel. She called her book "The Shadow King," but, because of her deteriorating health, she was never able to finish this work. For a decade the incomplete manuscript of "The Shadow King" languished on a shelf. Now, Deborah J. Ross has fleshed out and completed this last of Marion's work, and you hold in your hand the resulting novel: Hastur Lord.
Regis Hastur was the heir to the most powerful domain on Darkover. When his grandfather, already elderly and in fragile health, died, he would inherit the title of Hastur Hastur, Regent of Darkover - king in everything but name. But ironically, this mantle was the last thing Regis had ever wanted. As a boy he had spent many hours staring from the confines of Ancient Comyn Castle to the gleaming modern buildings and vessels of the Terran Zone space port, dreaming of travel to strange worlds and faraway planets. As he grew to be a young man he had dreamed of a different kind of freedom - the freedom to live and love like an ordinary man, without the expectations and responsibilities of his position. But now what Regis in his late twenties, and his grandfather was dying. His destiny was almost upon him. Though he had long ago given up his dreams of travel to distant worlds, he had staunchly refused to marry, for in marrying he would have to set aside his beloved Paxman and long time lover, Danilo Syrtis. For Regis, living a life without Danilo was, quite simply, a life not worth living.

But it was a time of change for Darkover, for the Terran Empire was Reconfiguring itself into a federation, and long Darkover's ruling council Comyn had been destroyed by the Terran murders perpetrated by the organization known as The World Wreckers. The Democratic Telepath council had proved unequipped to govern, and those left alive Comyn held differing points of view about the status of Darkover proposed in the new Terran Federation.

Even Regis recognized Darkover's desperate need for strong, rational leadership - leadership only he had been trained to provide. But now that his time was at hand, what Regis willing to make the personal Sacrifices necessary to lead his world? or would he turn away from his destiny and finally make his dreams come true in real terms? For on his deathbed, his grandfather Register informs that he has a brother - an older half-brother who could finally relieve Register of the burden of the title he had never wanted. Registration would finally let himself be free to be the man he had always dreamed of being?
I had not read a Darkover novel in quite a few years, so I was looking forward to reading this novel. Was I disappointed, well read on…

For me the first criteria for a novel is it readable or does the reader get tripped over the dialogue within the book. ‘Hastur Lord’, it should be noted, is a readable book so it definitely does meet the first criteria. The pacing of the story keeps the reader engaged and though I question the lack of depth in character establishment, the story itself moves along at a good pace.

There are some memorable intimate moments revealed in the book, especially, with regards to interactions between Regis and Linnea. One memorable passage was during a marriage proposal when Linnea rests her chin on Regis’ back and he thinks regarding her touch, “not at all intrusive, but nonetheless compelling, as if he were a mountain and she a weary traveler, as if he were a straw in the wind and she a sheltering tree”. I like the imagery…

The second criterion for a good book regards the characters. Are the characters interesting and engaging throughout the book and, except in rare instances, in this area sadly the Hastur Lord is lacking.

Everyone and everything is tired in this book. The Comyn have been beaten down and are a shadow of their former glory. Regis is tired of the perception of leading or being viewed as a leader and wants out of his potential responsibilities. Darkover is tired and, as well, the Terran Empire is tired (so tired it stops being an Empire and moves to be a Federation – historically doesn’t it always go the other way around? Mmm). As you read on, you hope something great can emerge from all this down ness and by the end of the book you are still left waiting and hoping.

One irritating aspect I found in the book and honestly, I don’t remember if it was the same in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s original non ghost-written novels and novellas, but throughout the book it seemed the characters are rather clueless when it comes to having a deep understanding of each other (though they believe they have a deep understanding). Now normally this would not be a problem, but the Comyn are telepathic, when they touch or are intimate with each other whether it is male-female, male-male, or female-female they become ‘ONE’, supposedly understanding each other in their totality. They even know when they create a new life and what its sex will be. So having this deep connectedness you would think they understand what motivates each other, but in the book they all act like they have a marginal understanding at best. Possibly this is to make them more real and accessible to the reader, but I found it to be most unrealistic.

My recommendation for the book is, if you are a fan of the Darkover series, you may enjoy Lord Hastur, but it is definitely a light weight read, one might even say, a mere hiccup in the overall Darkover saga.

Mark Taylor



Stay tuned for a fabulous giveaway for copies of Hastur Lord by Marion Zimmer Bradley as well as a profile of the Darkover series.

For more information on the authors visit:

Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust Website

Deborah J. Ross
Website

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