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Black Blossom
Boban Kneževic
Prime, 139 pages

Art: Luís Rodrigues
Black Blossom
Boban Kneževic
Boban Kneževic was born in 1959 in Belgrade, Yougslavia. In 1978, his first science fiction story was published. This was followed by over forty other stories and novelettes in various magazines and anthologies, as well as three novels: Death on Neptune (1986), The Black Blossom (1993, 2000, 2003) and The Man Who Killed A Butterfly (1996). His new story collection Android's Premonition (2005) marks 25 years of his writing.

Boban Kneževic Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

It's uncommon to discover a contemporary novel that successfully captures the tone and spirit of early epic legend or literature, such as the Eddas or Le Chanson de Roland, while at the same time couching itself within a postmodern aesthetic. I can think of at least two recent and notable efforts -- Gene Wolfe's The Wizard Knight and John Wright's Everness -- that while admirable in their display of postmodern approach to an earlier tradition, fail to entirely attain the identity they are in part reinventing and emulating. The same cannot be said for Boban Kneževic's Black Blossom, a harmonious marriage of earlier and contemporary aesthetics totally in tune with its originally sources, distilled and focused into a slim volume that by comparison could be easily overlooked, but that in its concentration and fidelity is easily the more potent.

Starting at the midpoint of the story, the narrative expands both forward and back in time, telling the tale of a Serbian knight on a traditional quest to obtain the magical weapons necessary to overcome a curse. This bane assumes the physical form of a warrior-sorcerer, conjured out of a shameful incident in Serbia's past, and since appearing periodically to plague the hero's kingdom, sowing murder and destruction it its wake. Supernatural in strength, and seeming impossible to overcome, the hero of this intended saga sets out on a journey of discovery to learn the truth behind this occult and superhuman foe, in the hope of ultimately defeating him. Yet, it turns out the hero has a secret and intimate connection to his adversary, and as the novel develops, the reader begins to suspect that the two in some way mirror each other.

This suspicion is reinforced by parallel events that stalk one another throughout chapters that at times, in their temporal march forth and back, are themselves reflections or echoes of what has gone before or have yet to occur. On the surface, the arrangement of chapters that begin in the middle of the narrative and move consecutively between earlier and later chapters seems but a clever postmodern and compositional strategem. Yet they set up and contribute to allegorical and thematic dualities which eventually lead the reader to a beginning that is also the end, brilliantly achieving a whole inseparable from its parts, in the process attaining a resolution impossible without the construction chosen.

In many ways a meditation upon the nature of strength and power that possess obvious correlates with history and recent events that have taken place in the author's own country, and continue to reenact themselves elsewhere today, in never losing touch with his informing traditional sources -- in a faithful reinvestment in myth, epic sagas, legend, Faerie and medieval romance, as well as more contemporary sword-and-sorcery -- Kneževic subtly directs attention to the whole notion of heroism and the manner in which Western culture early-on invested it with qualities and characteristics that have changed little with the passage of time, and continue to influence us -- often to our detriment—today.

As has been remarked upon by various scholars, Western society continues to be imbued with medieval values that shape our actions and views of ourselves and our modern world. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in our concept of heroism and its association with romantic archetypes of strength and courage, as well as their attendant opposites of weakness and cowardice, and our culture's early celebration through literature and history of warfare and a warrior ethos which continues to find resonance in contemporary fantasy and historical fiction, as well as events occurring around the world today. In drawing upon and emulating these literary and genre traditions, the author directs a critical eye not only at the notion of heroism itself, and its possible contribution to the miseries of war that dog humanity's history, but also at the literature that has and continues to glorify these values, calling both into question and account. In doing so, the merger of the traditional and postmodern in the novel seems entirely appropriate... indeed, necessary.

Conceptually, and in elegance of writing, this is a brilliant and sophisticated novel belied by its slim package. Winner of the Lazar Komarcic Award -- the Yugoslavian equivalent of the Hugo -- this is a novel that deserves reading by a wide audience, especially those who enjoy literary fantasy: we are fortunate to have it finally translated and published here. One of the best works of fiction I have read this year or any year, I cannot recommend it more highly.

Copyright © 2005 William Thompson

In addition to the SF Site, William Thompson's reviews have appeared in Interzone, Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. He also has worked as a freelance editor for PS Publishing, editing The Healthy Dead and Grandma Matchie, by Steven Erikson, and Night of Knives, by Cameron Esslemont. He lives in Mesilla, New Mexico.

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