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|The Fellowship of the Talisman|
by Clifford D. Simak
Del Rey Books, 1978
Abebooks.com: assorted editions
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Suggested by: Ross Pavlac
In a parallel fantasy world, a Bible manuscript is carried through country filled with evil beings.
The setting is an alternate world in which the Dark Ages never ended. Even though it's the 1970s, the world is still stuck in mediaeval times. Duncan Standish, the scion of a family of ancient and noble (if not exactly spotless) lineage, is sent by his father to consult an expert at Oxenford, who might be able to determine if a record of the life of Jesus which has turned up in the family records is, in fact, a genuine eyewitness account. If the account turns out to be genuine, it might breathe new life into the Church, and help it to combat the suffering and evil which have oppressed the world for uncounted centuries. Unfortunately, a particular manifestation of that evil, the Horde of Harriers, has desolated a swathe across Britain, and to get to Oxenford, he must pass directly through the Desolated Land, and hope that the Harriers will not catch him. Setting out with his childhood friend Conrad, his warhorse Daniel, his mastiff Tiny, and Beauty, a burro who can also kick a mean hoof, Duncan collects an unlikely band of fellow travellers: a failed hermit, a ghost who can't quite figure out how to go about haunting anybody, a goblin who hates humans but hates the Harriers still more, a failed witch, a banshee who can barely fly, a truant demon, and a girl descended from wizards who can't work magic. Every step of the way, they meet difficulties, and they can never tell which side the next person they meet is really on.
Despite a good deal of talk about the Church and Christianity, there is no real theological content here. In the end, Christian relics seem to be just one more kind of magical object. If, at least, Christianity is shown as playing a role in mediaeval culture, that role is never shown terribly clearly. Then too, like all too many modern writers, Simak shows no understanding of the enormous technological, political, and social developments which occurred during mediaeval times, which made the Renaissance and the modern age possible. Even more disappointing, after going to a great deal of trouble to put together a band of characters just bristling with dramatic possibilities, Simak brings the story to a rather abrupt end without bothering to develop any of those possibilities. It's almost as if he had set out to write a trilogy, and then got bored and decided to cut off the story at the end of the first book. In short, this is not Simak at his best, or anything close to it. Greg Slade (July, 2004)
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