Beyond the Gap by Harry Turtledove (2007)

BeyondtheGap1Cover blurb

Count Hamnet Thyssen is a minor noble of the drowsy old Raumsdalian Empire. Its capital city, Nidaros, began as a mammoth hunters’ camp at the edge of the great Glacier. But that was centuries ago, and as everyone knows, it’s the nature of the great Glacier to withdraw a few feet every year. Now Nidaros is an old and many-spired city; and though they still feel the breath of the great Glacier in every winter’s winds, the ice cap itself has retreated beyond the horizon.

Trasamund, a clan chief of the mammoth-herding Bizogots, the next tribe north, has come to town with strange news. A narrow gap has opened in what they’d always thought was an endless and impregnable wall of ice. The great Glacier does not go on forever–and on its other side are new lands, new animals, and possibly new people.

Ancient legend says that on the other side is the Golden Shrine, put there by the gods to guard the people of their world. Now, perhaps, the road to the legendary Golden Shrine is open. Who could resist the urge to go see? Not Hamnet Thyssen or Trasmund. Not Ulric Skakki, Hamnet’s old comrade in arms: a good man to have at your side, although perhaps not at your back. And not, damnably, Eyvind Torfinn – a scholar, a very knowledgavle man but, alas, the husband of Hamnet’s former wife, Gudrid: a troublemaker if there ever was one. She’s decided to come along, too.

For every one of them, the glacier has always been the boundary of the world. Now they’ll be traveling beyond it into a world that’s bigger than anyone knew. Adventures will surely be had…

My thoughts

Beyond the Gap almost breaks the rules for this site, but since it is a fantasy rather than a historical drama, it qualifies for inclusion on this blog. Anyway, after spending the last three evenings reading it, I felt it would have been a waste not to review it.

The novel is an odd mix of Clan of the Cave Bear and Dungeons & Dragons. It is a swords and sorcery tale that substitutes mammoths and short-faced bears for dragons and unicorns, and it is set in a fantasy version of North America at the end of the last Ice Age. The continent is home to a European civilization cut off from the rest of the world by a great ice sheet to the north (the Laurentide ice sheet). A warming climate has caused the ice sheet to split in two, and Count Hamnet Thyssen is charged by the emperor to lead an expedition through the gap to see what is on the other side. Problem is, Hamnet’s ex-wife has decided to accompany the group, and she delights in tormenting her former husband every chance she gets.

Beyond the Gap is far from Turtledove’s best work. The characterization is thin and the dialogue often clunky and amateurish. The whole “angry ex-wife” subplot was thrown in to flesh out the main character, but he is portrayed as so stereotypically good and his ex-wife as so stereotypically evil that their relationship isn’t the least bit interesting. The rest of the cast is composed of stock characters from fantasy fiction: A boisterous barbarian, a wise-cracking rogue, a down-on-his-luck wizard. Only the setting shows some originality.

The plot moves at a glacial pace (ha ha) with really not much happening in the 320 pages of the novel. There isn’t enough action to keep fans of adventure fiction happy, and the characters are not human enough to really care about what happens to them. Several Ice Age animals have cameos throughout the book, or are at least mentioned, but they are more for color than an integral part of the plot.

Beyond the Gap is meant to be the first book in a new fantasy series and the ending leaves room for what could be an interesting sequel. I generally like Turtledove’s works, and he has tackled the same subject matter better in the past, so there is hope this series could improve.

Trivia

  • Beyond the Gap clearly takes its inspiration from the theory that at the end of the last Ice Age, a corridor opened up in the Laurentide ice sheet that allowed the ancestors of the Native Americans to travel from Alaska to the rest of the continent. This PBS Nova web site has a graphic illustrating the gap and may help you visualize the world of the novel.

Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s