1980’s The Silver Sun is the second volume in Nancy Springer’s The Book of the Isle series. The Silver Sun is a heavily revised edition of 1977’s The Book of Suns.
The Isle was home to human folly but not willful malevolence. That changed when the Easterners attacked. Divided amongst themselves, the kingdoms of the Isle failed to unify against the existential threat posed by the invaders. Consequently, most of the Isle fell to the Easterners, whose rule is as deliberately cruel as it is unjust.
Seven generations after the invasion, hope appears in the form of a naked man running through a forest.
Stripped of everything by brigands, Alan is waylaid by a patrol determined to arrest or kill him. Fate decrees that Hal should cross paths with the patrol just as its armed soldiers are attacking Alan. Hal is an expert swordsman. The patrol flees, leaving Alan battered but alive.
Both men are aristocrats. Hal is the heir to a kingdom and Alan is the son of Leuin, seventh lord of Laueroc. They discover that they are like-minded in their loathing of the Easterner lords in general and of cruel King Iscovar (who murdered Leuin and who is also Hal’s father). They swear an oath of blood brotherhood. Together, they will work to free the Isle from its oppressors.
Curiously, the two men look so much alike that one might take them to be brothers. Perhaps this has nothing to do with the difference between legal and biological fathers. Perhaps.
Although the Easterners have large armies and sorcery on their side, the free people of the Isle, humans and elves, have prophecy on theirs. However, the fates will not simply hand victory to Hal and Alan. Instead, the two must carry out many quests and secure the necessary alliances to have even a hope of winning.
Indeed, even with several messianic prophecies predicting victory. even though the men of the Isle manage to set aside their traditional rivalries, victory is far from assured. Only the final battle will reveal who is victor and who the vanquished.
While this is the second book in the series, The Silver Sun is also self-contained, as was the custom at the time.
I don’t know how often Nancy Springer read Lord of the Rings, but I would guess that the answer would be “frequently.” However, unlike certain series
ShannaraI Shannara could Shannara mention Shannara, Lord of the Rings is not the only source on which Springer draws.
Let’s start with the similarities to Tolkien. Springer’s elves are very much Tolkien’s elves, potentially immortal unless they are killed or if they fall in love with a human1. Also, Springer aims at lofty epic prose and sprinkles the text with poetry. Way more poetry than I like in my fantasies; my preference is none. The good guys are an alliance of plucky underdogs, some human and some not. The author and the characters value virtue, even if living up to it is difficult.
However, the Isle’s model is not some antediluvian continent but Britain itself. The Isle is to the west of a continent, the latest wave of invaders is not entirely dissimilar to the Normans, and the hapless locals who get crushed by the Easterners are rotoscoped Welsh. There don’t seem to be any analogs of Danelaw or the Romans — although very oddly, there are Gypsies2, called by that term (even though there is no other evidence of an Indian subcontinent) — but it’s a short novel and there may not have been room for everyone.
Most importantly, King Iscovar is not a grand, supernatural entity for whom death itself is but an inconvenience. He is a terminally ill (possibly syphilitic) tyrant incapable fathering sons, surrounded by sycophantic brutes who would turn on him in a second if they knew how sick he was.
Alas, it’s all a bit too earnest for me. I did not love it . Lots of other people did. Readers curious about the state of fantasy half a century ago could find few more representative works than The Silver Sun.
1: Knowing that one could doom one’s true love to loss of immortality is exactly as much of a romantic damper as you might expect.
2: Is The Silver Sun set in our world? The evidence suggests not. Gypsies (the preferred term for the real-world folk, Roma, is never used) are a recurring feature in secondary world fantasies.
3: I read this book because it was available and choices were more meager half a century ago.