01/11/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: TOR/Forge. 511 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US), $28.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1501-4.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
'By Schism Rent Asunder' is the sequel to 'Off Armageddon Reef' with the series yet to achieve an overall title. Merlin Athrawes, the android aviator of the founders who brought this colony to this world and essentially wiped their memories and made them have a lesser technological knowledge to avoid being detected by aliens seeking to wipe them out has proven successful. It is over two centuries since the aliens have gone and Merlin's job is slowly advance the civilisation up through the history scale. If anything, the parallels are more akin to the time of Henry VIII, only not with this king but with a chap called Cayleb Ahrmhk on the throne of Charis. Having rejected the policies of the Group Of Four, who run the organised church, his kingdom is under threat. Merlin tweaks their firepower for them to survive and Cayleb marries Sharleyan, the Queen of Chisholm. They jointly rule and change to Emperor and Empress to share time between both kingdoms.
Much of this story is set up for the events to come and there is far too much dialogue compared to the action that takes place. You do need a score card and be very awake to read this book as it follows the events of several months and is a very heavy read. Just the tongue-twisting phonetic names of the lead characters alone are the tip of the iceberg. At the back of the book, Webber has ten pages listing all the characters he's used in this book. Considering he has the likes of Earl Grey, Lock Island ('Lost' anyone??), Dustyn Olyvyr ('Marathon Man' film) and somewhere in here I detected odd spellings for Clark Kent and Lois Lane, then there must be other names readers might want to work out. Yes, any reality is going to have many people involved in actions but so many does mean that things get rather too convoluted and you can't really distinguish between the characters. Considering that Merlin is the only futuristic element, he's also practically the only everyman link in to this world and it became something of a relief to returning to his perspective every now and again.
If I was going to complain then it's because so much is going on that events get squashed in the context and much that is important can easily get hidden. If you're going to pick up all the nuisances you're going to have to read this book several times and analyse every page. However, as mentioned above, if you're familiar with Tudor England, you should recognise the framework that this is based on and be on familiar ground.
It's obvious Webber likes playing with this reality but I hope he remembers in future volumes that people have to read it as well and would really be easier if he centred more on the key players.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA