BRIDGE OF THE SEPARATOR
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In his first series about Videssos, Harry Turtledove looked at an outsider's view of the empire. In the second series, he focused on a Videssian who started as a peasant and became Emperor. In the third series, Turtledove focused on a frontier officer of Videssos and one of the empire's enemies. In Bridge of the Separator, Turtledove writes the biography of a priest who becomes the most implacable foe of Videssos, Rhavas, whose enmity spans all of the earlier published novels.
As the book opens, Rhavas is being sent by his cousin, the Avtokrator of Videssos, to the distant city of Skopentzana to serve as the prelate of the church of Phos. Rhavas's unbending theology makes him a perfect prelate and all assume that given the proper seasoning he'll become the Patriarch of Videssos some day. Turtledove then jumps fifteen years into the future when Rhavas has become accustomed to his exile in Skopentzana and a Civil War wracks the empire.
Following the fall of Skopentzana, Rhavas faces a series of Job-like trials as he attempts to make his way to Videssos the City. Unlike Job, however, Rhavas's faith in Phos does not prove as strong as everyone suspected and he begins to lapse into a position considered morally untenable by the Videssian priesthood. Rhavas's fall into heresy is not a smooth decline. He vacillates between his new knowledge of the Truth and the Truth as he has believed all his life. However Turtledove's description of the fall, and the Rhavas's wavering, doesn't ring entirely true.
While most of the novel describes Rhavas's journey, both literal and metaphorical, from his position in Skopentzana to the synod to discuss his theology in Videssos, it isn't until the synod begins that Turtledove really delves into the heart of the matter. There is an energy in Rhavas's defense of his heretical views and the establishment's attacking him that is lacking from much of the rest of the novel, as if this section is truly the story Turtledove wanted to focus on.
Readers familiar with Turtledove's earlier novels about Videssos will know that Rhavas gained seemingly eternal life to go along with his hatred of Videssos. While many of the questions about Rhavas's life are answered in Bridge of the Separator, Turtledove leaves some areas open for future study. He does show, however, the birth of Rhavas's abhorrence for Videssos as well as Rhavas's initial steps in his attempts to wreak his vengeance against the empire.
Bridge of the Separator is a welcome addition to the saga of the Videssian Empire. It reveals history of a character which was only hinted at in seven earlier novels and fleshes out the internal theo-politics of the empire in a manner which has only really been previously examined in the short story "The Seventh Chapter."
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