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    Review of BEYOND THE GAP by Harry Turtledove (see his website)

    Tor, February 2007

    For thousands of years, the great glacier has been the central fact of life for the Raumsdalian Empire and the barbarian Bizogots living in its shadow. But now a Bizogot ruler brings word that the 'gap' no longer simply drives a wedge into the glacier, it has actually divided it in two. A way is now open to the long-forgotten and mythical north. Perhaps, the Raumsdialian emperor guesses, even the great Golden Shrine can be found. He authorizes a small party of Raumsdalians including a mage, a scholar, and a couple of fighters to head north to explore. Soon after they leave, though, they are joined by a group of soldiers and the troublesome woman once wed to Hamnet Thyssen (one of the fighters), is now married to Eyvind Torfinn (the scholar), and is having an affair with the Bizogot ruler who brought the news. Gundrid delights in making trouble and especially in tormenting Hamnet who has never gotten over her betrayal.

    The journey to the north--into the land of the glacier takes the Raumsdalians a long way from home to a world where wood is virtually unknown, where crops cannot be planted, and where the nomadic life is considered normal. Fortunately for the Empire, the Bizogots have always been divided--and can be bribed to attack one another when they might otherwise threaten the Empire.

    What they discover beyond the gap, though, changes everything. Because there are people living there--people who style themselves the 'rulers' and who look at the opening in the gap not as an opportunity to seek knowledge, but as a chance to conquer the rich lands of the south. And the Raumsdalian Emperor has absolutely no interest in hearing about a risk to his comfort.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) spins a strong tale of magic, character growth, and cold. Turtledove is best known for his alternate history stories and BEYOND THE GAP, while not an alternate history, carries a lot of Turtledove's historical knowledge with the Raumsdalians standing in for the Romans, the Bizogots for the Germans, and the Rulers for the Huns.

    Turtledove's fantasy stands out from much of what is being written now because it focusses on people and on the conflict between civilizations rather than the angst of particular dark elves or whatever. Not that Turtledove doesn't have his tortured characters--certainly protagonist Hamnet is tortured and equally clearly Gundrid carries demons of her own that she cannot shake. But we get the idea that the deeds of these characters carries more weight than simply their happiness or their acquisition of wealth. Civilizations stand in the balance as well as personal romance--and that's good stuff.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 8/11/07

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