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The Divided
Katie Waitman
Del Rey Books, 358 pages

Cliff Nielsen
The Divided
Katie Waitman
Katie Waitman lives in Southern California, where she works for the law school at the University of California. Her first novel, The Merro Tree, was a Del Rey Discovery and won the Compton Crook Award for best new novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Merro Tree
Excerpt: The Divided
Excerpt: The Merro Tree

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Since time immemorial, the Maurheti and Tel-mari peoples have been engaged in a vicious religious war. According to the dualistic Maurheti faith, God divided in two at the beginning of time, separating what was not himself -- all that was dark and foul -- from what was himself -- all that was light and good. As the Maurheti are of the light, so the Tel-mari are of the dark, and their ongoing war mirrors the eternal conflict between God and Not-God for control of the universe.

The Divided tells the story of Sekmé, a commander in the Maurheti army, and Merkus, a Tel-mari freedom fighter. Sekmé is a dedicated, lucky, and extremely effective soldier -- so effective, in fact, that her superiors suspect she might one day manage to defeat the Tel-mari once and for all. But Sekmé's superiors don't want to end the war -- for that would deprive Maurhet of its divine mission, and transform a way of life that has endured for centuries.

Hoping to get rid of Sekmé, her superiors send her on a dangerous and pointless undercover mission into the heart of Tel-mar. Living as a Tel-mari, Sekmé unwillingly begins to see her people's traditional enemy in a different and more human light. Her life, accidentally, becomes entwined with that of Merkus -- who, sickened by the endless warfare, has begun to value the dream of peace more than the hope of vengeance for his people. Ultimately Sekmé's mission, meant to neutralize the threat she poses to the status quo, has the exactly opposite effect. In the chaos that follows, she and Merkus, reluctant allies, stumble on a truth that has been lost for centuries, and begin to understand the real nature of the war they have been fighting for so long.

In The Divided, Waitman has crafted a gripping, thought-provoking, emotionally compelling novel. It's a considerable change of pace from her semi-comic Bildungsroman-like debut, The Merro Tree; despite some moments of lightness, The Divided is unrelievedly dark. Waitman delivers a powerful anti-war message -- difficult to do without lapsing into cliché, but she manages it; there's also a strong indictment of religious bigotry, coupled with a clear vision of the redemption faith can bring. The division of the book's title -- which the Maurheti believe to be God's separation of light/good from dark/evil -- is actually the separation between human beings that follows when the forms of religion, its rituals and practices, become more important than the faith it embodies.

Waitman's world building, drawing on Eastern rather than Western culture, is extraordinarily vivid and fully-conceived, as are her characters. Even their most extreme actions make sense within the context of the story, and their tragedies and dispossessions are genuinely wrenching. The whole is deftly paced, and framed in fluid, elegant prose.

The Divided is not without flaws. The plot depends a bit too heavily on coincidence, and the ending is a little flat, as if the book's ideas had begun to run out of steam. And I was struck at various times by questions of plausibility, such as why the Maurheti, with their air capability, should be so ignorant of what lies beyond their own and their enemies' borders. Overall, however, this is an impressive book -- far more engaging, in its occasional inconsistencies, than many of the more perfect novels I've read recently. Waitman is definitely a writer to watch. I look forward to her future work.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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