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Monday, April 6, 2009

Beyond the Gap

This book was right up my prehistoric interest alley and I've thoroughly enjoyed Turtledove's Bronze age short stories and editing, so it's no wonder I picked it up. It was a good enough read, and I got to the last page, but it took me longer than usual because the interest level just wasn't where I expected it to be.

The premise seems to be of taking a Medieval European city and placing it in North America at the end of the last Ice Age and flanking it with Cro-Magnon-like Bizogots to the north, just as the massive glacier the blocks the Berring land bridge begins to melt through. However, Turtledove and his editors and marketers never state this on the cover, flap, Preface or Introduction. To add to the confusion, Turtledove adds fantasy magic (not "Eastern" or "shamanistic" or "illusion" but downright unexplainable Dungeons and Dragons type magic) to the mix about two-thirds of the way through the book.

There's alot of walking. And alot of dialogue. And alot of pitiful mooning by an otherwise stalwart warrior about the depravity of an ex-wife he should have forgotten long ago. The idea of an enterprising nobleman who is also a formidable warrior also having the emotional fortitude of a female teenager is off-putting, and would almost make one think that Turtledove himself must not have much experience in romance. Furthermore, often the dialogue is disjointed or sophomoric, containing jokes that are either not funny or of a strange humor that's lost on this reader. Often subjects or statements presented by characters just don't ring with the truth of living dialogue.

Otherwise Turtledove's writing is excellent, and the topic interesting. I just don't see why he wanted to put it in the Ice Age if all he wanted from that era was a herd of mammoth and a small cave bear.

As other writers have said, the book finally gets going about the time it ends, and I suspect that the second installment will be better. I rarely read a sequel to a book I've only given 3 stars to, but this one might be the exception. I still believe in Turtledove, and I'm a big fan of prehistoric fiction...even if it is alternative. Besides, he never told us about the Shrine....perhaps a marketing ploy that I'll most likely fall for. But if I give this series a second chance and all that character development is proven to be for not, the second book will be lucky to get 2 stars.

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