Review of THE GOLDEN SHRINE by Harry Turtledove (see his website)
A TALE OF WAR AT THE DAWN OF TIME
Tor, October 2009
The 'Rulers' have broken through a gap in the glaciers that long separated them from the Raumsdalian Empire and pillage and conquer virtually unchecked. Led by its incompetent emperor, Raumsdalia can do little. Indeed, its only hope, and that of the barbarian Bizigot tribes to its north, seems to be a battered band of defeated adventurers led (mostly) by Count Hamnet Thyssen. Hamnet has one key weapon against the Rulers--his lover, shaman Marcovefa. Although the Rulers have magic far more potent than anything the Raumsdalian Empire or the Bizigots can deliver, Marcovefa is more powerful still. Of course, she is just one woman and the Rulers have hundreds of shamans. Hamnet will have to come up with something clever if he doesn't want to be just one more victim to the Ruler hordes.
Although Marcovefa finds it easy to defeat the rulers at first, with each victory, the Rulers learn more about her powers and come up with new ways to defeat her. Although Hamnet's band seems like a trivial threat compared to the huge armies of defeated but not vanquished Raumsdalia, the Rulers are willing to put most of their efforts into his defeat. When they finally manage to put Marcovefa to sleep, defeat seems certain.
Hamnet, with his inability to give up his obsession for the other women of his life (his ex-wife and his ex-lover, both of whom eventually connect to his band), makes an interesting, if sometimes frustrating character. I would also have liked to see a better reason to include the ex-wife in the party, and some explanation of exactly why she was so angry at him. I thought Turtledove did a great job setting up the climactic battle and hinting at the resolution without giving the secret away.
Author Harry Turtledove (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Turtledove) doesn't position THE GOLDEN SHRINE as alternate history (his specialty), but the links to history seem obvious. The Raumsdalian Empire is Rome, the Bizigots the Germans (Visigoths?), and the Rulers the Huns who nearly destroyed both Rome and the German tribes. THE GOLDEN SHRINE is the third and final book in a series describing the events that followed from the gradual retreat of huge barrier glaciers that separated the two hemispheres (North America and Europe?).
THE GOLDEN SHRINE is an enjoyable, light read.
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