The Golden Sword – Janet Morris
Let me start by saying this is the SECOND book in the SIlistra Quartet – and it helps to have read the earlier book, although I think you could get by without it.
The action starts immediately, and thus some prior knowledge of the world and the main character is useful. That said The world building, like Janet Morris’s other books is superb and there is a helpful glossary at the back for the unfamiliar alien terms. When Morris creates a world she doesn’t hold back and this darkly sensual book ticks all the boxes for drama, cleverness and the ability to make the reader think. What is duty? What is love and how does it bind a person. Is sex merely pleasure or is there something far more profound in our genetic and cultural identity – and for that matter how fixed is it? Silistra is a world once ravaged by a war and environmental damage which almost destroyed everything – greed, vanity, selfishness and all the dark deeds of which an ‘intelligent’ society is capable. From these ashes rise the Wells and the alien but hauntingly possible culture of this world.
Silistra is a world where the ability to reproduce is perhaps the most important aspect – as wars and a bloody history almost destroyed the races. Thus sex, and the relationships between men and women, the way their society sees them, is important. And women ofter hold the power. Yet it isn’t that simple (these things rarely are), for the various factions fight between themselves, try to hold the more technologically advanced races at bay, and seek to find themselves. Love of those simply not worthy of it by the rational mind and of the call of one person’s allure to another. The role of men and women, master or mistress and subordinate, of slave and free, of tribe and tribe, city and city, Silistrian and environment are woven about a tale of one woman’s quest to find out who she is and not necessarily liking the answer.
The secret of the Silistran longevity is threatened, and with it the Silistran way of life and all they hold dear. This is more than just Estri’s own fight for survival as allies and enemies duel, intrigue and switch allegiances. Secrets are revealed, bargains struck and betrayed and threats loom from the stars without, the people within and the treachery of one’s own fear.
It’s not a book for those looking for a simple adventure, or a happy ever after. It’s not a love story, and it’s not a story for those who are easily offended. But it is a great story. There is sex, violence, betrayal, blood, death, loss, love, hatred, fear, power struggles and people being really quite shitty to one another, and in this I found a reflection of ourselves – our world as could be, and might well be. This is a book which makes one’s blood sing and one’s mind ponder.
I loved the first in the series and enjoyed this as much, perhaps more. The ending leaves the reader desperate to know what happens to Estri next – courtesan, slave, warrior, lover, rebel. What is next for our heroine?