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Gideon's Wall
Greg Kurzawa
Riptide Press, 315 pages

Gideon's Wall
Greg Kurzawa
Greg Kurzawa is one of the aliases of author Gage Kurricke. He is an active member of the Anthropological Society of Greater Jericho (ASGJ) and, for many years, taught history and science at Jericho's University of Arts and Sciences. In a dispute over tearing down the ancient Bringer's Hall for school expansion, he resigned his position with the university and retired to the lower east side of Cog Munge where he pursues his study of culture funded by the ASGJ. Gideon's Wall is his first published novel.

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A review by Neil Walsh

Shallai was a mighty empire that covered a vast expanse of territory, until one day it mysteriously disappeared. Some ruins could still be found, thrusting up out of the sands, where once stood fertile lands and vibrant cities. But none of the people survived whatever catastrophe destroyed the empire. No one survived to explain how such a thing could happen.

This is the premise of the novel, and I found it to be quite an intriguing mystery. It sucked me right in, and I can't say I regret it, in spite of some significant flaws in the work. Although the concept of this debut novel is superior to its execution, it is still very much worth reading.

The first 40 pages or so are written from the perspective of an Archaist (essentially a sort of archaeologist/archivist) who has come to the ruins of Shallai some few decades after its mysterious and abrupt end. The writing style in this section of the novel is very dry and aloof. To further aggravate the reader, side by side with the unfamiliar names of this fantasy world, there are allusions to familiar and familiar-sounding places -- the Archaist and his party visit the ruins of the city of Jericho; we hear of far-off Karnak and the River Anubis -- without explanation. Later, the desert dwelling tribes beyond the borders of Shallai are known as the Bedu, and there is at least one reference to Saracens. And yet, there is no firm indication that this has any connection to the world we know; in fact there are some pretty broad hints that this is clearly not our familiar Earth.

If you can put aside your concerns about what planet we're on and just accept that this is a fantasy, and if you can get past the first 40 pages of the dry-as-dust Archaist, then you're into the heart of the story. The remainder of the book is the recounting of the end of the Empire. It's largely told from the perspective of Del, a former soldier, now the unwilling ambassador to the Bedu. From all that the Archaist has found in the beginning of the book, we know what is to come; all that remains to be seen are the details. Therefore, the remainder of the novel thunders along with the weighty inevitability of a Greek tragedy. Oddly, though, in contrast to the beginning of the book, the tone is much more friendly. This probably comes as a result of the difference in personality between Del and the Archaist (who is so unappealing a character that if he is ever named I can't recall his name, and if he isn't named you probably won't even notice). It also puts a nice ironic contrast on the deadly dry tone of the living Archaist, and the lively tale told by those who are now dead.

The end, when it comes, is as massive as you expect from the beginning. And almost as tragic -- although there is a seed of hope to keep you from closing the book and then wanting to go off and have a bath with razor blades. However, although the means of the empire's destruction is explained, there is much that remains undiscovered. Ultimately, then, this novel is as enigmatic as the mystery it purports to recount: at times frustrating, at times wonderful. Gideon's Wall is, in many ways, an impressive first novel. But it leaves you wanting it to have been better. Could it have been better with a different editor, or with a more experienced author? Or will some of the reader's minor frustrations be alleviated in a future work set in this same world? Can't you just be content with a book that leaves some questions unanswered?

Copyright © 2003 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh has several great passions in his life: reading, and...uh, some other things that are, no doubt, equally interesting.

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