Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Throughout the "Keepers of the Hidden Ways" series, it is clear that Joel Rosenberg's characters have been moving between the mundane world of Hardwood, ND and the fantastic world of Tir Na Nog. In The Crimson Sky, the third "Hidden Ways" novel, Rosenberg discloses that there are three worlds. Tir Na Nog, Hardwood and . . . Minneapolis, MN.
Rosenberg's Minneapolis takes all the evils of big city life and exaggerates them. While everyone in Hardwood is neighborly and takes care of each other, exhibiting tolerance for everyone (with a few notable exceptions), the city is a cold and unforgiving place. I would rather walk through dangerous areas of New York, Washington or Chicago than live in the Minneapolis Rosenberg portrays.
That said, the scenes which are set in Minneapolis are much more interesting than the scenes set in Tir Na Nog. Throughout the three novels which make up the "Keepers of the Hidden Ways," Rosenberg has failed to make his Tir Na Nog more than an unreal faerie realm. While much of the action takes place there, the reader still gets the feeling that the real story, and the real tension, remains in our own world. Ian Silverstein's third trip to Tir Na Nog is reminiscent of the first two. Thorian Thorsen, Torrie, Maggie and Jeff Bjerke trying to find one of the Sons of Fenris in Minneapolis brings something new to the series.
There are two plots running through The Crimson Sky, both sparked by the appearance of a Valin (dwarf) at the Hidden Way in Hardwood. The first (and more interesting) plot revolves around a Sons of Fenris plot to harm Thorian Thorsen's blood, which the council of elders in Hardwood take to mean Torrie or Maggie, sending Thorian and Jeff out to Minneapolis to protect them. The second storyline follows Ian Silverstein, the "Promised Warrior" as he re-enters Tir Na Nog to make sure that the Sons don't infest Hardwood as they did in The Fire Duke.
There is no real sense of danger and tension in the sequences which feature Ian Silverstein. He almost seems to be running through a fantasyland populated by bogeymen rather than actual horrors. The reader can sense that Ian is going to be all right and feels that Ian's actions don't really make a whole lot of difference. The sequences set in our own world, however, are rife with tension. Characters are injured and hurt as they try to track the wolves through a major city. Nevertheless, some aspects don't quite ring true, most notably Torrie's separation from his father near the end of the novel. Rosenberg's inclusion of Billy Olson, an Hardwood boy now living in Minneapolis, also doesn't quite fit, although it does point out that life in rural Hardwood is not nearly as utopic as Rosenberg otherwise indicates.
A long-time advocate of gun rights, Rosenberg depicts all of his characters as concientious gun owners. They all know how to take care of their guns and use them, taking precautions to keep them away from anyone who might mis-use them. If all gun-owners were as law-abiding and careful as the ones Rosenberg depicts, gun control would not be an issue. Unfortunately, this view of gun owners is as skewed as Rosenberg's depiction of big city and rural life.
Rosenberg has come up with a lot of original sf since he published "Like the Gentle Rains" in 1982. Unfortunately, "The Keepers of the Hidden Ways" is not as original as "The Guardians of the Flame" or "D'shai" series. Although Rosenberg's humor has occasion to show through in The Crimson Sky, it does so less frequently than in other works. While The Crimson Sky ends with a relatively ambiguous ending, there is nothing to stop Rosenberg from continuing the story, it is hoped that he will return his attention to his other universes or to new projects, rather than continuing thise series which just never really manages to click.
As an aside, while it seems obvious for the sky on the cover to be painted red for a novel entitled The Crimson Sky, the unnamed artist who was hired to paint the cover provided Minneapolis with a blue sky.
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