Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: The Conqueror’s Child

Part of what I like best about any type of fiction is the ability to play with time in regards to story; whether through the use of flashbacks, asides or (as is more common in genre stories), time machines and cryogenic sleep, characters, and through them, the readers, are able to examine aspects of time that are not easily seen in human experience except through historic recordings (written records, photographs, video, etc.) and living through time ourselves.

Suzy McKee Charnas published the first of her Holdfast Chronicles, Walk to the End of the World in 1974, and when the fourth and final novel in the series, The Conqueror’s Child was published in 1999, a quarter of a century of real time had gone by for the reader.

Now for me, someone who picked up the first book four months ago – I read the series at an accelerated pace and followed its story through two generations, but for people who read these books as they came out, the characters would have aged along with the readers, which made the focus of the final book, on the grandchild of the one of the first books protagonists, a pretty cool use of the medium of the novel.

As with the previous book in the series The Furies (1994), I found the writing style had significantly improved and I moved through the book much faster than I had the earlier two books. The story, focusing on a society of freed slaves who had overtaken their oppressors (the series examines a post-apocalyptic setting where men ruled and women were used as beasts of burden and the “necessary evil” of breeding), examines issues surrounding how a newly created society can work to make things better for the generations after them, and, like the rest of the series, focuses significantly on issues of survivor guilt, responsibility, and consequences for past behaviors.

I’m really glad I got to check this series out, as I had never even heard of it until I found David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books, a few years ago, and decided to work my way through the books reviewed there. This was powerful stuff and did what all the best SF gets me to do, Think about what I was reading.

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