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This Heavy Crown

Back From Chaos  (Earth’s Pendulum, volume 1)

By Yvonne Hertzberger 

6 Oct, 2017

A Year of Waterloo Region Speculative Fiction


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To paraphrase her website:

Yvonne Hertzberger has been a Jill of all Trades; actor, singer, gardener, hairstylist, and decorator. This long-time student of human nature, empty nester, retiree and late bloomer, finally found her calling writing epic fantasy. She lives with her spouse, Mark, in Stratford, Ontario.

2011’s Back from Chaos is the first volume in Hertzberger’s Earth’s Pendulum series. 

Catania has fallen! Supine beneath the forces of neighboring Bargia, the Catanians expect the worst: looting, rape, arson, and mass executions.

What the Catanians get — much to the surprise of Marja, sole remaining member of Catania’s royal family — are reason and conciliation. The conquerors attempt to find a solution that will prevent future wars.

It is the custom of Bargia’s royal family to lead from the front; as a consequence, their numbers have been thinned. They are now few, as are the Catanian royal family. Marja is the sole survivor, as is Gaelen, who finds himself elevated from spare to the heir” to ruler of the combined territories of Bargia and Catania. Harsh reprisals against Catania may be justified by earlier offenses, but regional stability demands a different solution. Marriage. 

If Gaelen were to marry Marja, and treat his new subjects with kindness, all might be well. 

Gaelen’s argument in favour of uniting the two families is unassailable. What converts Marja from a reluctant bride to a fond spouse is Gaelen’s behavior; in many ways (starting with his decision to wed her rather than kill her) he shows that he prefers to rule through justice and persuasion. This might turn out well for the combined realms if it were not for …

The attitudes of some of Gaelen’s subordinates, including his close advisor Sinnath. Sinnath fears that Gaelen has fallen under the evil influence of a foreign witch. The ruler is betraying his own country and people. It seems that the only possible course of action, disagreeable as it is, is …



Criticisms first.

A. The author spends more time telling readers what the various characters are thinking than she does showing it through their actions. I think that this book was her debut novel; that’s a beginners’ error and one that I hope will be avoided in her later work.

B. The subplot re lady-in-waiting Brensa involves rape and its aftermath. As longtime readers know, this is not my favourite topic, because it’s used as a stock plot element in so many books. (Yes, some times one author suffers for the habits of hundreds; reading a particular book occurs in the context of all the other books I’ve read.) At least the author makes it clear that both men and women can be rape victims, something not usually addressed in contemporary fantasies. 

Stuff I liked. 

A. The reasonable and kind-hearted Gaelen can get away with being generally agreeable is because he has a minion, the grim Klast, who can be trusted to do the unpleasant tasks. When spying needs doing, a prisoner needs to be tortured, or bandits need to be run through, Klast is there to deal with the matter [1]. Reading about a ruthless killing machine slaughtering his way through mooks might get boring; what the author actually does is hand him a task for which he has no relevant skills: befriending the victimized Brensa. This leads to a romantic B‑plot that is awkward, funny, and endearing. I found it more interesting than the straightforward romance between the leads [2].

B. For the most part the significant characters are astonishingly reasonable people; the exception, Marja’s paranoid father, is dead before the book opens. Even the antagonist starts off with the highest of motivations, a sincere desire to protect his kingdom. If it weren’t for people working at cross purposes, there might not have been a plot at all. A pleasant change of pace… 

Back from Chaos is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: A lot of nice protagonists use this method, keeping their hands clean while their intimidating, amoral companion doles out pain and death. Klast is the useful sort of psycho sidekick, the sort who only goes off when you want him to and in the desired direction. For an examination of how this strategy can backfire, read any Walter Mosley book featuring Mouse.

You said don’t shoot him, right? Well I didn’t; I choked… look, Easy — if you ain’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?

2: Klast’s fumbling efforts somewhat reminded me of the way Miles Vorkosigan tries to woo Ekaterin (as if courtship were a military campaign). But Klast is less too-too clever than Miles. He is also aware of his limits and willing to seek advice. Even follow it. 

(I trust many of my readers are familiar with Bujold’s A Civil Campaign. If not, I will be reviewing it on September 21, 2018. Most people like it, though you might be one of the unfortunate few who bounce off it.)