Marion Zimmer Bradley,
Heritage & Exile
(DAW, 2002)

Certain authors and worlds make indelible marks in the minds of readers. Among these are J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, Anne McCaffrey's Pern and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, a cold planet settled by a crashed Terran colony ship. Forced by circumstances to colonize a planet they had not intended to, the descendants of the crew and colonists developed into a society based on psionic technologies. Mental powers, amplified by blue matrix crystals, could send messages, power aircraft or raze cities. For thousands of years, Darkover was cut off from Terra, but eventually, the Empire found them again.

Heritage & Exile is an omnibus edition of two of Bradley's Darkover novels, The Heritage of Hastur (1975) and its sequel, Sharra's Exile (1981), a rewrite of the earlier Sword of Aldones.

The Heritage of Hastur is the story of the coming of age of Regis Hastur, heir to the Hastur Domain and closer to the throne than he might like. Young Regis has no desire to walk the path that law and tradition have laid down for him, but wishes, instead, to take ship and see the Terran Empire, especially as he has not yet developed the psychic powers that mark his caste. But the Terran Empire is not popular with the rulers of the Comyn Domains, among whom is the lord of Hastur, Regis's grandfather. An agreement with Lord Hastur that he will spend three years walking the path of a Comyn heir brings Regis into contact with the one person who can awaken his dormant psychic powers.

Heritage is also the story of Lew Alton, Regis Hastur's friend and foster-brother, son and heir of Kennard, Lord Alton and Elaine Montray, a woman of Terran blood. Because of his mother's ancestry, Lew is reviled on Darkover as bastard and half Terran. When he makes a journey to the renegade Domain of Aldaran on his father's behalf, he finds himself embroiled in what he believes at first is a noble effort to show the Terran Empire that Darkover is not a backward feudal planet to be protected and nurtured, but a galactic power in her own right with her own advanced matrix technology. Unfortunately, the matrix that is chosen as part of the demonstration is more than just a crystal for amplifying psionic powers. It is also the gateway for the entity Sharra, whose only aim is destruction -- and when Sharra gets out of control, it is Lew and his new wife Marjorie who must stop her.

Sharra's Exile continues the tales of Regis Hastur and Lew Alton. Lew, bonded to Sharra and unable to be separated from the great matrix, takes it offworld with him when his father takes him out into the Empire. But Darkover teems with plots and machinations and when Lew returns to Darkover at his father's behest, he perforce brings Sharra with him -- and right into the hands of those who will do anything to rid Darkover of the Terrans once and for all.

Meanwhile, Regis Hastur has discovered some very disturbing new dimensions to his psychic gifts, including a curious power over Sharra. When Sharra once more gets loose, it will be up to Lew and Regis to stand in her way and save both Darkovans and Terrans from her fury.

It is fitting for The Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile to be published in an omnibus volume as they tell a single, deeply complex story, that of the struggle for Darkover to be accepted in the Terran Empire and still remain true to herself. The story alternates between Lew Alton's narrative and Regis Hastur's viewpoint, allowing the reader to see two young men torn between preserving their traditions and taking the step into a new era.

I do feel the need to quibble with the cover statement that these two novels are "together for the first time in one omnibus edition!" Perhaps for the first time in paperback, but I first read these books when I was 13 in a hardcover omnibus edition (from the Science Fiction Book Club, if I remember correctly) that was lent to me by a friend. They were, coincidentally, the very first Darkover books I ever read. Part of my pleasure in reading this new edition, then, was nostalgia for that older volume, but mainly, I found that what bored me as a young teenager, or what I could make neither heads nor tails of, made a heckuva lot more sense 20 years later.

If you have never read any Darkover books before, this is an excellent place to start -- but I warn you, once you have begun, you'll want to know the entire history of Darkover and some of the books are getting hard to find (though it appears as though Daw will be releasing more omnibus volumes in the near future). If you are an old fan of Darkover, then you'll welcome this omnibus as a treasured old friend.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

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