HEY! Waitaminute! I thought this sub-column was going to be called Good Reads?!
Yeah, it was. Then I learned that Good Reads is the name of an online personal library/book recommendation/thing. With which I’m not affiliated. So we’re calling this Good Books, now.
Anyway, back on topic. The good books in question for this installment are the Opening of the World trilogy by Harry Turtledove: Beyond the Gap, The Breath of God, and The Golden Shrine.
Odds are you’ve already heard of Harry Turtledove. He is known by many as a master of alternate history and science fiction. He’s famous for his books based on what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War (the Timeline-191 series) and if Japan had been successful in taking Hawaii (the Days of Infamy series). And who can forget The Guns of the South, where time-travelers supplied the South with AK-47s? But this incredibly prolific author (who has cranked out about 2 books a year for over 30 years) got his start in fantasy, and has many fantasy novels to his credit. The Opening of the World trilogy is one of his most recent fantasy series, released in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
About The Books
The trilogy is set in a Bronze Age fantasy world. Civilization flourishes in the southern lands where the weather is mild and crops can grow. Moving further north, the colder steppes are dominated by the Bizogots, tribes of loosely connected, semi-nomadic barbarians. North beyond the steppes lies the great glacier, from which the cold winter wind (called the Breath of God by the world’s inhabitants) blows down. Beyond the glacier…well, who knows?
Count Hamnet Thyssen finds himself summoned to the palace of Emperor Sigvat II of the Raumsdalian Empire. When he arrives, he finds the emperor already has a visitor: Trasamund, jarl of the Three Tusk clan of Bizogots. Trasamund has brought news that a gap has melted through the glacier, and the emperor wants Hamnet to lead an exploration team through the gap and beyond. Part of their mission is to also search for the near-mythical Golden Shrine, said to be built by God himself but never seen – at least not in hundreds of years.
Hamnet and Trasamund are accompanied by Ulric Skakki, the quintessential rogue; Audun Gilli, a down-on-his-luck sorcerer; and Earl Eyvind Torfinn, a scholar of the Golden Shrine. Unfortunately, with Eyvind comes his wife, Gudrid – who just happens to be the ex-wife of Hamnet, from a marriage that ended on quite unhappy terms. The motley crew sets out to the north, meeting up with Trasamund’s clan and joined by Liv, the Three Tusk shaman.
They head through the gap, and find themselves face to face with the people who live on the other side – a powerful race of mammoth-riding warriors and sorcerers who call themselves the Rulers. The Rulers have no interest in the newcomers other than defeating them and taking their lands for their own – and when the Rulers’ sorcerers start throwing magic unlike any the explorers have ever seen, they have no choice but to run for their lives.
They are forced to climb the receding glacier, where they find, much to their surprise, more people – not Rulers, but not Bizogots either. Life atop the glacier is hard, and with so little in the way of material things to make their lives easier, the people there have honed their magic to a level far beyond either the Raumsdalians or the Bizogots – even higher than that of the Rulers. Their shaman, Marcovefa, joins the group, and she alone may be the only one who can defeat the Rulers. But how? Well…you’ll have to read the books to find out!
Why Should You Read Them?
I’ll confess that these three books were my introduction to Harry Turtledove, and now, I’m itching to read more of his works. He weaves an intriguing story – I stayed up way past bedtime many a night because I had to know what happened next. The books are set in Turtledove’s own world, and he describes that world with enough detail to make the reader feel like they’re in it themselves as they read. Every character reminded me of someone I know in real life, that’s how deeply they were developed. There was a lot more romance than I expected in the trilogy, so that was a very pleasant and welcomed surprise. I just plain loved the trilogy and when I turned the last page of the final book, even though the series ends with closure, I was sad it was over and have to hope he might revisit these characters again someday.
Now, on a personal note: Harry Turtledove was the guest of honor at the last con I attended (MisCon 24 in Missoula, MT), and I was too star-struck to talk to him. My husband found him on the last day of the con and got our Opening of the World books signed, but all I managed to do was squeak out a “Hi!” to him when I nearly ran into him in the dealers’ room (literally). By my husband’s account, and by that of everyone else at the con, he’s a super nice, very approachable guy, and I missed out on a great opportunity to talk to him. Don’t be like me! If you get a chance to meet Harry Turtledove, don’t let his fame or height (he’s ten feet tall, I swear!) intimidate you.
Harry Turtledove is a big-time author with big-time publishers, so his books are easily found in bookstores everywhere, as well as through good ol’ Amazon.com. Pick up the Opening of the World trilogy. Believe me, they’re Good Books!
Have you read the Opening of the World trilogy? What are your favorite Harry Turtledove books?