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The Eyes of God
John Marco
DAW Books, 786 pages

Keith Parkinson
The Eyes of God
John Marco
John Marco was born and raised on Long Island, NY, and grew up reading and enjoying fantasy adventure stories. Before becoming a full time fiction writer, he worked as a technical writer in various industries, including aviation, computer technology, and home security. His Tyrants and Kings series is an expression of his passion for epic literature and military history.

John Marco Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Excerpt: The Eyes of God
SF Site Review: The Saints of the Sword SF Site Review: The Grand Design
SF Site Interview: John Marco
Excerpt: The Grand Design
SF Site Review: The Jackal of Nar

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

In Eyes of God, we wander far from the land of Nar: a young, naïve and visionary king; an even younger and beautiful princess soon to be queen; and a handsome knight who will serve both king and queen as redoubtable champion.  Recently crowned, Akeela the Good hopes to put to an end the interminable wars fought by his father, ushering in a era of peace and prosperity for his country that will nourish noble and peasant alike, in which justice will be based upon notions of equality and mercy, education available for all, and where even the deformed and downtrodden will be provided for.  As a symbol for his vision, he desires to construct a vast and wondrous library, "the most extensive... in the world," a "Cathedral of Knowledge" in which all learning will be housed and open to the public, be they scholar, privileged or poor, where all can have access to the power knowledge can confer.  His new bride, Cassandra, herself barely more than a girl, while drawn to the goodness and nobility of his heart, elects to marry Akeela not only to cement the peace between her father's kingdom and a former foe, but more importantly to escape the confines of her father's house, and to do so as a queen.  As expected, Akeela immediately falls in love with her, and though she does not as yet reciprocate the depth of his affections, considering her marriage is one of political convenience, she might fare far worse.  Her future husband is a generous man, after all, with grand ambitions that she will share; his love for her is obvious and her feelings for him should naturally mature over time.  However, time is a luxury that neither will be granted, as the king's former captain, Lukien, now champion to the queen, also falls in love with Cassandra, and, unbeknownst, she with him.  Madness, murder and imprisonment will follow.

If all of this sounds rightly familiar, it's because the allusions to Camelot are all too readily apparent, right down to the cast of players and the broad initial outline of the plot.  And yet it is equally clear that the author wishes the masquerade to be recognized, as if needed, Lukien an obvious link to de Luc.  This acknowledgement alone would hardly justify yet another genre gathering of the Round Table, and thus for the first third of the novel, one worries that this is all the narrative will become.  Fortunately, toward the end of the initial chapters (though not until a couple hundred pages have passed, rife with Arthurian reference) the tale begins to take unexpected turns, in large part freeing itself from its earlier resemblance.  And, in many respects, it is during the second section of this novel, entitled The Librarian's Apprentice, that the novel begins to achieve its own identity, as well as at times reflect the independent imagination glimpsed in Marco's previous novels.

Centered upon the character of Gilwyn Toms, the reader moves forward in time to a realm that has become a grotesque caricature of the king's original vision.  Lukien is gone, banished under a sentence of death upon discovery of his adultery.  The queen lives alone locked in a tower, the prisoner not of her affair with Lukien, but of a cancer whose cure was accompanied by a curse, suspended in perpetual youth and beauty, but condemned never to be seen again by human eyes.  And Akeela has fallen into madness, frustrated in his continued love for Cassandra and brooding upon the betrayals of his life.  In his obsessive sorrow, he has allowed his kingdom to degenerate into a reflection of his own internal disease, a corruption of the soul that looks back at him from the dirty, crime-ridden streets of his city.  Only the great library he once dreamed of has been achieved, all that remains of a once bright and hope-felt vision.

It is within this library that Gilwyn Toms works as an assistant to the scholar Figgis.  Still a lad, his deformities have prevented him from assuming any other role within what has remained, outside the walls of the library, a war-like culture.  Taken under Figgis' kind wing, Gilwyn has become perhaps the only citizen of Akeela's kingdom who has benefited from the king's once cherished aspirations of a universal education.  Without his place in the library, it is probable in a society inured to warfare and the harsh realities of poverty that Gilwyn, with his maimed foot and malformed hand, would have been abandoned or euthanized at birth.  Yet the library and Figgis have provided him with both a purpose as well as a haven.  Nor are they to prove the only lad's protectors: a mysterious and magical woman comes unexpectedly to his aid, veiling hints as to the boy's identity.  Even more important, at least in terms of the chain of events it sets in motion, is Gilwyn's accidental glimpse of a beautiful young lady as she walks one night amidst the abandoned garden of the king's fortress.

In terms of structure, Marco cleverly uses The Eyes of God to address human notions of beauty and deformity, adroitly mirroring and transforming contrasting images of both: the romanticisms often inherent in depictions of Arthurian legend ultimately twisted into figures crippled and scarred by their past actions and failures of the spirit, until bearing little resemblance to the noble carriage and ideas they once represented, or alternatively revealing the misshapen and grotesque to be more than just appearances.  In what could be called a championing of the handicapped, Marco clearly underscores a belief that true disfigurement resides in the spirit, not in the physicality or shape of the body.  The fact that the author somewhat hamstrings the integrity of his message (as well as overstating it) by eventually providing the handicapped with supernatural powers through the agency of personal "angels" does not entirely negate the skill with which he initially constructs his metaphoric fašade, though it does weaken its final impact.  Of greater consequence, perhaps, is the fact that his characterizations stay, even though more than one dimensional, fairly close to the surface of the story, more dominated by events and the novel's structure than by their own individual depiction or inner conflicts, thus failing to a large degree to elicit the reader's emotional commitment. 

The author also briefly explores issues of chauvinism and male oppression of women, but in a manner that has been done elsewhere, and more vigorously.  The greatest strength of this novel remains in the way, mentioned above, in which the author manipulates and alters his original Arthurian-based landscape to serve very different ends, as well as his refusal at times to take his story where expected.  The reader will be in for some surprises.  However, outside the story's symbolic and metaphoric structure and the way they serve its central theme, the narrative strongly conforms to broadly conventional lines, with characters for the most part playing to type.  Imaginatively, once outside this use of metaphor and symbol, the novel appears a far more prosaic effort than Marco's earlier tales of Nar, with greater direct borrowing, as in the thinly disguised Islamic cultures of Ganjor and Jador.  Finally, the author only rarely plays to one of Tyrant and Kings greatest strengths: his vivid depiction of battle.  While not necessarily seeking action-driven fantasy here, in the absence of other elements, the author's energetic and detailed portrayal of armed conflict is sorely missed.

Partially successful, and to be acknowledged for its choice of themes, it is doubtful this novel will significantly garner larger attention -- if as much -- than the author's previous  novels.  While a significant step forward in terms of its use of symbolism and metaphor, the story itself somehow fails to become entirely compelling, and in this narrative respect does not prove the equal of its predecessors, regardless of any risk of comparison between a solitary novel and three.  Though better written than many, the preponderance of conventional storylines and characters ultimately weighs the novel down, in the end enervating the strengths it possesses.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.

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