Marion Zimmer Bradley,
A World Divided
(Roc, 2003)

Marion Zimmer Bradley gave the world an impressive collection of published works, but she loved and cherished her Darkover novels and stories above all others. From the publication of Planet Savers in 1962 until her death in 1999, Bradley published over 20 Darkover novels and a dozen anthologies. It is a remarkable series covering six major stages of Darkovan history. Tragically, many of those publications have gone out of print over the years; thankfully, in 2002, DAW began publishing special omnibus collections such as this one. A World Divided consists of three novels: Star of Danger (1965), The Bloody Sun (1965) and The Winds of Darkover (1970).

One of the best things about Bradley's series is the fact that each can book can be read and enjoyed by itself; while there is a definite history and chronology of the planet Darkover, the reader does not have to tackle the books in any certain order. A World Divided gives us an interesting mix: two relatively minor Darkover novels and one major novel of great importance, each of them taking place in an era of great historical change.

Star of Danger reads like an exciting juvenile novel, and I believe it serves as an excellent, solid introduction to the planet. The book's protagonists are two teenaged boys standing on the cusp of adulthood, natives of different cultures coming together for the unplanned-for adventure of a lifetime. The"backwards" Darkovans do not trust the Terrans, afraid of the type of change Earthmen will bring to their traditional, highly structured society, but Larry Montray, a young Terran new to the planet, is easily mistaken for a native inhabitant. After striking up a friendship with young Darkovan aristocrat Kennard Alton, Montray is given an unprecedented opportunity to spend the summer with the Altons in the countryside. Larry's great adventure soon becomes a perilous ordeal. In order to survive, Montray and Kennard must learn from and defer to one another's strengths. Culture clashes are inevitable, but in such a bond of friendship is forged the bridge that may one day unite the competing Terran and Darkovan cultures.

The Winds of Darkover shows us a side of the planet rarely explored. Alienated from the ruling families on Darkover, Loran Storn has no one to call upon for aid when bandits seize the outlying Castle of Storn. His blindness is a further impediment, and in desperation he seeks out another mind and engineers a rescue mission through that person. The mind he finds is that of Terran Dan Barron, and thus in one character we are presented with two unique, fresh viewpoints of Darkovan life -- one by the Terran who is journeying into this world for the first time, and the other by the blind Storn aristocrat seeing Darkover for the first time through Barron's eyes. The winds of change blowing in the realms outside the control of Darkover's ruling families portend the sweeping changes coming to the planet as The First Age of contact with the Terrans draws to a close.

The real gem of this omnibus collection is The Bloody Sun, as it basically takes us through the dawning of Darkover's Second Age. By this time, the influence of the Terran presence in the land has led some Darkovans to question the old ways and to call for a closer relationship with the Terrans. Some of the people believe that the old ways are outdated and needlessly burdensome, but few in authority have the desire, let alone the courage, to pursue "progress." The true power of the ruling families has long been centralized inside the mysterious Towers that dot the land, but now only the mighty Tower in Arilinn can boast of a full-fledged Keeper, and even this primary Tower's circle is incomplete at the time this novel opens.

Raised in the Spacemen's Orphanage on Darkover until he was 12, Jeff Kerwin spent his next several years on Earth with his Terran father's parents; an outcast on a world not truly his own, he pined for the day he could return to Darkover and learn the truth of his heritage. All he has is the name his Terran father gave him and a matrix jewel of unknown origin. When he begins to search for the history of his earliest years, he is upset to learn that no such records seem to exist. Kerwin knows he is being lied to and manipulated, but he has no idea why. On the brink of deportation from the planet of his birth, a voice beckons him through the jewel he wears, and by following this voice Kerwin finds a new home on Darkover -- a home within the very Tower of Arilinn.

Thus we get an inside look at the work of the Keepers inside their mysterious Towers. It is a brand new life for Kerwin, accepted into a telepathic circle of power and authority. Ultimately, he carries the burden of knowing that the future direction of Darkover depends on him, as the Tower of Arilinn is put to a test that will determine whether traditional "magic" or Terran technology will best serve the Darkovan people in the future.

Both Star of Danger and The Winds of Darkover are wonderfully evocative, adventure-filled novels painting an illuminating picture of Darkovan culture, but The Bloody Sun is among the most important and significant of Bradley's Darkover novels, showing as it does the inner workings of the last and most important Tower, revealing long-buried secrets reaching all the way back to the turbulent days of the Forbidden Tower, and basically explaining the impetus for one of the most significant cultural evolutions in Darkovan history. Bradley has long been an underappreciated giant in the genres of fantasy and science fiction; no reader's journey through the modern classics is complete without at least one stopover on the planet Darkover.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 31 July 2004

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