Fiction Reviews

Out of the Darkness

(2005) Harry Turtledove, Pocket Books, pbk, 6.99, 655 pp, ISBN 0-743-46849-X


This is the first Harry Turtledove novel that I've read that isn't in the "alternative history" genre. Out of the Darkness is fantasy or science fiction, although, to be honest, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between these two different genres anyway. So let's call it speculative fiction.

The book is set on a fictitious world, actually an island, called Derlava, which is split into at least ten or eleven separate countries, most, if not all, of whom seem to be at war with one or more of their neighbours at anyone time. It is obviously a very large island with the northern part being so near the 'equator' of this world that the 'people' of the state of Zuwayza find it incredibly normal to go about their business buck naked (they similarly frown upon foreign visitors staggering around fully clothed!). Meanwhile, down in the south of the island, and nearer their south pole we guess, prisoners of war incarcerated in the country of Kuusano where thick furs all year round.

This work seems to follow a similar formula to the five or six alternative history novels of Harry Turtledove's that I've already read and thoroughly enjoyed over the last few years. He focuses on one character for four or five pages, then goes onto someone (or in the case of this book, something) else for the next four or five. As far as Harry Turtledove is concerned this is obviously a formula that he feels works for a vast majority of the time, and I am totally inclined to agree with him. As the old adage goes, " if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

What did not help me with this book, as far as 'getting into' it is concerned is that it's the sixth in a series and I had not read any of the others. Some books in a series can be read as a stand-alone novel, or even out of sequence. This one cannot. I was , completely clueless as to what was happening, and who was doing what to whom, most of the time.

If I had read the previous books in the series, or if I was more familiar with some of Harry Turtledove's other speculative fiction, I expect this book would have made perfect sense, and I would have been anticipating this one as much as I am, in fact, looking forward to the third episode in Harry Turtledove's Settling Accounts series.

Far be it for me to actually state that this book is absolutely no good whatsoever. It's just that I stumbled into it with very little idea as to what was going on. Maybe one criticism that could be levelled at Harry Turtledove is that a lot of his works are difficult to read as stand alone novels when part of a larger series of books. Attention to this would make a body of his work more accessible to a wider range of readers.

Mark Cowling

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