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    Review of BRIDGE OF THE SEPARATOR by Harry Turtledove


    Baen, December 2005

    For centuries, the Videssos Empire has grown under the power of its Avtokrator (Emperor) and its unified faith in Phos, the god of light and goodness in Phos's eternal battle with Skatos, the god of darkness and evil. It is an article of faith in Videssos that Phos is more powerful than Skatos, that good will eventually triumph. But when civil war breaks out and the two Avtokrator candidates pull troops from the frontiers and the city garrisons, barbarian nomads break through the ancient boundaries and begin to pillage--in an orgy of destruction that cuts the Empire in half.

    Rhavas is a priest of Phos, cousin to the legitimate Avtokrator, and the head of the church in the northern city of Skopentzana. He has always believed in Phos's eventual triumph, but the barbarian invasion makes him question his faith. When he learns that his prayer and blessing has no power, but that his curse can kill, Rhavas comes to believe that Phos may not be the stronger. With half the Empire in ruins, with rape in the streets and with the followers of Phos opening the Empire's gates to the enemy, who can believe that Phos is truly the stronger. And if the core belief of Videssos is mistaken, is it not the duty of a priest to correct those mistaken beliefs, to reform the church?

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) undertakes the difficult and intriguing task of making a man who embrasses evil the hero of this story. Rhavas begins as a likable character--engaging the readers interest and sympathy. The disasters that overtake him would make many question their faith, but Rhavas goes beyond questioning into an active embrace of evil. It is a mark of Turtledove's strength as a writer that he is able to pull off such a difficult task and still create a compelling story.

    Turtledove's Videssos Empire is a fantasy version of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, but with working magic. The events of BRIDGE OF THE SEPARATOR bear a strong relationship to the Germanic destruction of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century--when Gothic followers of the Arian heresy conquered Rome itself. The fantasy element adds a twist to Turtledove's story, but the historical texture really increases reader interest.

    Fans of the Videssos series will definitely want to read this one as so much of the later history of the Empire depend on Rhavas and his heresy. Those who have discovered Turtledove in his alternate history mode should be aware that BRIDGE OF THE SEPARATOR is not alternate history as generally understood but a fictional world with certain similarities to the world of our ancient past.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 4/16/06

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