Book Reviews

Rulers of the Darkness by Harry Turtledove-A World of Fantasy and Magic at War

In the fourth book in the series, author Turtledove shows the tide of battle turning. He’s taken the Second World War and translated it into a fantasy setting in the fictional world of Derlavai. Dragons rule the air and leviathans the sea, while on land sorcerers let loose horrific magic using stolen life-force. Magical sticks spew their charges on the battlefield while sorcerous eggs are dropped by dragons or tossed at opposing forces.

The German-like country of Algarve has seemed unstoppable until now. They have rolled through the countries of Forthweg, Jelgava, Valmiera, and Sibiu. Only the country of Unkerlant has been able to stand up to the Algarvians, using the same murderous magic against them and taking advantage of the harsh winters.

Separated from the main continent by the Strait of Valmiera, the counties of Lagoas and Kuusamo have had occasional bombing raids and a couple of doses of the murderous magic, but no all-out invasion. Mages from both countries are collaborating on their own secret weapons, which they hope will prove superior to what Algarve has been throwing at them.

Throughout Rulers of the Darkness, however, the question becomes will they need that magic to win? The Unkerlanters have turned the tide against the Algarvians and are driving them from the torn-up land. Sibiu has been liberated; will the rest of the continent follow?

One thing I’d noticed that Turtledove had ignored in the series up until this point was the equivalent to the War of the Pacific. There were occasional cursory mentions of battles going on between the countries of Kuusamo and Gyongyos, but other than that it seemed to be noticeably missing. With all of the point of view characters Turtledove has been carrying through the novels – 17, give or take, depending on who’s still alive – something was bound to get lost. Likewise, there is cursory mention of the bombing of the Lagoan capitol of Setubul which would be the equivalent to the bombing raids of London which also seem to be cast aside.

Instead here Turtledove seems to focus primarily on the war in Unkerlant. The mad King Swemmel is intent on driving them from his land, no matter what the cost. If Turtledove’s portrayal of Swemmel is in any way equivalent to Stalin, it’s a wonder the war was won. The King is portrayed as a madman who listens to little reason of those who are in the field and understand better what needs to be done, yet they must practice the utmost diplomacy with Swemmel or face being boiled alive.

Turtledove has brought most of his characters forward through the four novels and it’s quite interesting to see what has happened to them and how they’ve changed. Garivald has evolved from an Unkerlanter peasant who’s biggest worries were evading Swemmel’s inspectors, to a song-maker, to the leader of a band of irregulars trying to throw the Algarvians out of the Duchy of Grelz.

One of the biggest problems with these novels, besides the amount of jumping around between the various characters, remains the repetitive nature of Turtledove’s writing. It’s probably done to reinforce the backgrounds to the characters, but by the fourth novel, I pretty much know Krasta is a vapid noblewoman; those in the kingdom of Zuwayza wear no clothes, and Fernao has a thing for Pekka, (two mages who are working together on a version of The Manhattan Project). I suspect if the repetitiveness was cut out, there’s be about 50 pages less to the novel.

The flow of the novel is good, however, even with all of the bouncing between characters and repetitiveness. There were times when I felt as if I couldn’t put it down; I had such a desire to see what would happen to some of the characters. There are still two more novels to the series, however, so other than the deaths that occur, many of the stories in Rulers of the Darkness are continued on the next volume of the series.

This is not the point in the series to really pick up the novel and start reading it. In some ways, I suppose you could, but why would you want to? There is so much established history to the characters that it’s definitely better to start from the beginning rather than try to start in the middle here.

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