BEYOND THE GAP
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When Emperor Sigvat II summoned Count Hamnet Thyssen to his court in Nidaros, the count had no idea what the Emperor wanted, but one doesnít refuse an imperial summons, which is how he found himself leading a motley crew to the north to explore a gap which had opened up through the Glacier which lay upon the land for a thousand years in Harry Turtledoveís Beyond the Gap. The voyage of discovery takes the band through the icy gap where they marvel and are oppressed by the splendor of the Glacier rising on either side of them. On the other side of the Glacier, they search for the legendary Golden Shrine, cut off from humanity for the past millennium.
Beyond the Gap is unlike many of Turtledoveís novels in that it has a single protagonist, Hamnet Thyssen, to tell the story. Hamnet is typical of many of Turtledoveís characters in that he is quite competent and straightforward. When he says something, he means exactly what he says without dissembling and is generally right. At the same time, Hamnet does have his faults, from an intransigence when certain of his concepts of the world are challenged to his inability to get past his ex-wifeís infidelities. This last trait is tested throughout the novel by the inclusion of Gudrid, his ex-wife, and her husband, Eyvind Torfinn, as the Emperorís expert in the Golden Shrine.
The travelersí journey takes them from Nidaros, in the frigid north of Raumsdalia, even further north through the tundra inhabited by the Bizogot mammoth herders where they sojourn, briefly, with the Three Tusk Clan, whose jarl, Trasamund, was part of the group and had already been through the Gap to the other side. Replenishing their supplies at the camp, the band moves northward, through the gap which has opened in the massive Glacier until they get to the other side.
While much of the novel focuses on the journey itself, just as important as the travelogue is the interactions between Hamnet Thyssen and his comrades. Foremost among these, of course, is his ongoing relationship with Gudrid as he tries to pretend that he no longer cares about her or her continuing infidelities. His discovery that he actually likes her new husband is a surprise to him, but his closest bonds are to Liv, the shaman the group picked up while with the Three Tusk Clan, and Ulric Skakki, an adventurer whose attendance with the group is based in part on his relationship with Lord Dragnar, Sigvatís first minister.
Turtledove also examines the manner in which the band is greeted upon its return from the land beyond the Gap, first by the Bigozot and later by the citizens of the Raumsdalian Empire and Sigvat himself. Of primary concern to all of these is news of the near mythic Golden Shrine, while other tales the adventurers have to tell fall distantly, and perhaps dangerously, behind.
When Turtledove turns his attention to magic, he generally has well thought out magical systems, whether the God-based magic of the Elabon novels or the ritualistic magic of Videssos. In Beyond the Gap, Turtledove has created at least three magical systems which appear related to each other, but not entirely compatible. The two which are most closely linked are the sorcery used by Audun Gilli, a Raumsdalian mage, and Liv, the Bizogot shaman. While they can each figure out the otherís magic based on similarities to their own, the third system of magic, clearly as well-defined, eludes them due to the unfamiliarity with it.
Beyond the Gap is the first novel in a series and, while it does come to and end, it doesnít come to a conclusion. With parts of the story told, however, Turtledove can shed some of the characters who wonít, apparently, play as large a role in the next novel. At the same time, the next novel is being set up as one with more swashbuckling and sword swinging than Beyond the Gap.
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