Reviewed by Steven H Silver
This month, Harry Turtledove has two new releases, Krispos the Emperor and Prince of the North. The first book is the third book in his Tales of Krispos, set in the Videssan empire while the latter is a sequel to Turtledove's first two novels, Wereblood and Werenight, recently re-released in one volume by Baen as Werenight.
There are some similarities between the two books in that when last seen both protagonists, Krispos and Gerin the Fox, were happily married. However, as the two new books open, we learn that Gerin's wife, Elise, has run off with an horse doctor, leaving behind a four year old son. Krispos' wife, Dara, died a number of years before the opening of Krispos the Emperor, leaving Krispos with three sons in their late teens and early twenties.
Another similarity is the fact that both protagonists have a son kidnapped, although for very different reasons. Literacy also plays a role in both books, with Gerin promoting literacy successfully in Prince of the North and Krispos having his offer rejected in Krispos the Emperor.
Both books deal with the ravages war brings to the common people, and the reader can't help wondering whether this is a reflection on the riots which erupted in Los Angeles last year. (Ironically, in Prince of the North, a great deal of damage is caused by an earthquake, although I imagine the book was finished long before the Northridge earthquakes caused slight damage to Turtledove's home).
Prince of the North contains more signs of Turtledove's humor as he recounts Gerin the Fox's attempts to regain his kidnapped son. His quest for his child is derailed, however, as the gods of the North are weakened and a monstrous invasion occurs, pitting Gerin against his old foes the Trokme and causing him to form a hasty alliance with another former lord of the Elabon empire. From the empire itself, Gerin can gain no aid since the Northlands have been cut off since shortly after the Werenight which occurred at the end of the previous book, five years prior to the beginning of Prince of the North.
One nice aspect of Prince of the North is that whereas the earlier book(s) focussed specifically on Gerin and his retainer Van, Prince of the North introduces and re-introduces many characters who Turtledove can now flesh out better than when he wrote the original novels in the late 1970s. On the other hand, Turtledove never really gives a clear physical description of the monsters who are released in the Northlands, simply referring to them as monsters and describing them in terms of rather ugly, hairy humans.
In Krispos the Emperor, the antagonists are quite definitely human. Videssos is quite definitely and closely based on the Byzantine Empire which Dr. Turtledove studied to acheive his Ph.D., and that linkage continues to show through in his Videssos books. After twenty-two years of relatively peaceful reign, Krispos has three sons, none of whom seem particularly capable of taking over following Krispos' death. Nevertheless, Krispos sets out to help his sons into adulthood and the responsibilities they will need to take on when the eldest, Phostis, who may not be Krispos' son at all, succeeds Krispos as Avtokrator. Krispos is given the chance when rebellion flares among heretical farmers. Krispos and Sons travel off to meet these farmers with the Avtokrator unaware that his eldest son is sympathetic to the anti-materialist teachings of the heretics.
Turtledove's heretics are based, I imagine, on the Albigensians of Southern France, as well as various Byzantine heresies in that they despise the physical world, seeing it as the work of Satan. . . I mean Skotos. Like the Albigensians, the most holy of the Thanasiots end their lives by rejecting food as work of Skotos and wasting away until they can look upon the face of Phos.
It is telling how well Turtledove's Videssos is portrayed (and perhaps his own reputation as a writer of alternate histories) that I constantly found myself wondering what would happen if the plot twisted in different ways. For instance, if Krispos died near the beginning of the book when Phostis was first becoming enthralled by the Thanasiots. Unfortunately, this is an alternate history which I'm sure will escape Turtledove's talents, although it could lead to just as entertaining a story as the one told in Krispos the Emperor.
Purchase Prince of the North from .
Purchase Krispos the Emperor book from