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Raymond's Reviews #95

%T The Heirs of Hammerfell
%A Marion Zimmer Bradley
%I DAW Fantasy
%D September 1990
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 300
%G 0-88677-451-9

During the 1970s, Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a number of novels about a planet called Darkover. The Darkover novels fused old science fiction themes (exploration party goes native on uncharted planet and spawns a new culture) with old sword-and- sorcery themes (magic users control a Celtic-flavored feudal culture) to create an oddly plausible and (to many) extremely appealing hybrid.

But this fusion of cliches was not what made the Darkover novels interesting. What gave the Darkover novels real depth and interest for readers was not the flashiness of the gimmicks they used, but the psychological and ethical issues they posed. Bradley took us inside Darkovan society by taking us inside the heads of the nobles who ran it, the women who suffered from its restrictions, and the Terranans, who attempted by turns to control and to understand it. She forced us to consider what kinds of choices might be faced by individuals in a telepathic society.

"The Heirs of Hammerfell" is the first Darkover novel Marion has published in five years. Unfortunately, it was not worth the wait. The characters are crudely sketched, and the plot feels thin, as though Bradley were awkwardly padding a short story into novel length.

Worst of all, the novel lacks the ethical depth of the earlier novels. The one potential ethical conflict -- whether the younger of the Duke of Hammerfell's twin sons should accede to the authority of the elder even if he believes he would be a better Duke -- is resolved with little real soul searching and unbelievable rapidity.

In short, "Hammerfell" is a crude parody of the formula that made the Darkover novels popular. Marion, how could you?

[Contributed by guest reviewer Cathy Olanich]

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Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>