Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This excitingly thick book possesses a strong narrative style that will absorb the reader. The attention to detail in both characters, topography, plot and sub-plots draws the reader in to a positive page-turning experience. It is a good read although some of the background detail about aliens and cosmic disaster is a bit hammy. Hopefully, this part will make more sense in later sequels yet it does raise the issue that many a fantasy writer has to address, namely how do you define the new heaven and the new earth in which your story is set?
Tucker has postulated our planet some fifty thousand years in the future. Modern civilisation has disappeared due to robot wars. The planet has also experienced the Nightless Week, which was far longer than a week coming as it did from outer space. Then there were two tribes of aliens who tried to settle but either died out or left. All this means is that the world has changed, yet humanity survives. The story is about that humanity. The debauched, corrupt, vulgar humanity, so not that much has really changed.
A simple working girl, young and pretty called Blan lives in a coastal village making clothes as she improves her life. Dramatically she is seized by pirates keen to sell her for as much money as possible. A rescue party goes forth but while it captures some pirates, recovers and releases some other hostages it fails to free Blan. She is taken by her captor, one Jerkin to Slave Island, the pirate headquarters.
At the same time as all this free trade is going on The Black Knight, the putschist ruler of Krar continues to wage war in the conquest of the continent of Arctequa. This has not been going as well as he had wished so he has deployed a fleet of huge sailing vessels close to Slave Island. He catches sight of Blan and decides she would make an excellent Destined Princess, an idealised mother for the legitimate children he needed to secure his own dynasty. There is a legend of a Destined Princess that had been invented as a dynastic myth to which The Black Knight subscribed. It always fascinates how such successful baddies are really nut-jobs on the quiet. Is this an unconscious cultural comment on our times?
There is another cultural myth evident called the Great Plan of Human Civilisation which asserts free will and justice, that is opposed to The Black Knight and his merciless followers. This myth is propagated by one Praalis who is the last Grand Vizier of Krar. Now a feeble old man, he is used by the slaver Jerkin to train his young, female hostages in the ways of the upper classes so they can be sold on for large sums of money. When Jerkin sends Blan to Praalis for training he has no idea that he is sending her to her own grandfather. Furthermore Blan was wholly unaware of her own aristocratic origin. There is a lot in this tale about humble people discovering their aristocratic origins which is all very gratifying but it tells us more about the writer than anything else.
Praalis, now old and frail had studied the alien technologies that remained on the planet, particularly the system of geodes. This is an old, alien communication method based on the use of crystals now deployed by The Black Knight to keep track of his armies and navy through the use of Earth Wizards. He can use the geodes in ways unknown to the Earth Wizards and he does.
By the middle of the book the scene is set for the struggle to liberate Blan, free Praalis and strike a devastating blow at The Black Knight. The strings of destiny are slow to appear but they are drawn out in precise detail. The narrative is deliciously complex, involving all aspects of the society in which the story is set. There are the hopes and aspirations of the poor and the weak. The determination of the corrupt to come out on top, as otherwise there would be no point in being corrupt. The fear of the weak of the more powerful. The ruthless pecking order, the self-serving, the greedy, and the opportunists are all there to be found in this book. Even the tendency for leading pirates to lose their right as opposed to their left legs receives comment. It is a big, long read that draws you through the story all the way to the end. If anything it is an essay in human frailty, simple courage and human love. This is the strongest part of this novel as it delves into the human condition, albeit some fifty thousand years in the future. This requires a literary competence that far exceeds the rather flimsy background narrative, suggesting that the writer Tucker did not fully understand his own talent when he set out on this venture. Talent he has, so his next effort will be worth looking out for.