THE GOLDEN SHRINE
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Harry Turtledove completes his Opening of the World trilogy with The Golden Shrine, picking up with Count Hamnet Thyssen leading a ragtag collection of Bizagot nomads, Raumsdalian refugees, and the sorcerous Marcovefa against the invading Rulers who are intent on conquering everything that gets in their way, whether the Bizagot tribes or the millennium-old imperial city of Nidaros.
The final novel of the trilogy spends most of its time describing the battles between Thyssenís band and the invaders as they move throughout the steppes populated by the decimated nomadic tribes and the ruins of the empire. What becomes clear very quickly is that while the invading Rulers can overwhelm anything most of the indigenous population can throw at them, Marcovefa, who learned her magic in the desolate land on top of the glacier, can match nearly any magic thrown at her, and that the Rulers fear and respect Thyssen. Although Turtledove never quite reveals what it is, the Rulers apparently have a prophecy about Thyssen that casts him in the role of a chosen one.
The exact nature of Thyssenís role and the location of the titular shrine are the two biggest questions throughout the novel, although Turtledoveís characters donít have a lot of time the spend pondering either of them. Instead, when Thyssen isnít fighting the Rulers, heís trying to figure out his relationship with Marcovefa, as well as how to react to his former lovers, and keep his band together.
Although there are many battles, the first part of the novel tends to move slowly, punctuated by moments of excitement, many of which revolves around Marcovefa and her discoveries that perhaps the Rulers are not as easy to defeat as she assumes. Her own arrogance is often juxtaposed with the arrogance of the Rulers, both of which seems justified by their actions, although it is only considered admirable in Marcovefa who is working with Thyssen and the other defenders.
After the adventures of two volumes, which introduced the primary settings (as well as the stranger setting above the glacier and on the other side of the gap), there is a familiarity of the Raumsdalian Empire and the Bizagot steppes. Turtledove is able to continue to introduce novelty into the story, partly through the use of magic and partly with the inclusion of strange places and creatures.
When the war between the Rulers and everyone else does come to an end, almost through the use of deus ex machine, the novel enters into perhaps its most interesting phase as Turtledove explores the aftermath of the battle. Despite his hatred of Emperor Sigvat II, Thyssen throughout the novel loudly claims no desire to usurp the throne. Turtledove puts him into a situation where he has the opportunity. At the same time, Thyssen, Ulric Skakki, Trasamund, and the rest of the characters suddenly find themselves in a world without war, but also without any of the social structure to which they are familiar. Turtledove ends the novel before he can really look at the way they will rebuild their world, but the hints are there for an intriguing follow-up to the trilogy.While parts of The Golden Shrine are repetitive, the novel introduces new territory, both physically and psychologically, to its characters and readers. Turtledove provides a resolution to the situation he has carefully set up whether the overall political situation or more personal resolutions between his characters. As with most of Turtledoveís works, the world will continue on past the events of the novel, but he does provide closure for this fantasy series.
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