Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Shattered Goddess by Darrell Schweitzer

Kaemen, lord of the darkening world, sat in his throne room, as alone as he ever could be.  The Black Lady was asleep.  Always, always she stirred in his mind like a horde of rats, whispering, scratching, but now, after long labors and conjurings, after making the bones of The Goddess tremble, she lay dormant, perhaps exhausted in some manner he could never understand.
My copy, front cover
I'm a fan of Stephen Fabian's work (check out his terrific website, where you can see lots of Fabian's drawings and paintings and get all kinds of inside info about the SF and RPG industries), so when I saw the Starblaze edition of Darrell Schweitzer's 1983 novel The Shattered Goddess on the clearance shelves at Half Price Books I snatched it right up.  Fabian's cover painting, and his half-dozen interior illustrations, are good, and, to my surprise, I found that this copy was signed by author Darrell Schweitzer, about whom I knew nothing.

This weekend I read the novel, and enjoyed it.  Schweitzer sucked me in from page one with his compelling, provocative characters and storyline, and many striking images.  An evil witch, pursuing a convoluted campaign of revenge, fakes her own death and is interred in a dump!  She summons a demon who tunnels under her coffin to release her.  The demon demands payment, and she eagerly satisfies the beast by ripping out her own eyeballs and handing them over! Yuck!  The witch's soul, a cloud of black smoke, travels to the nursery where the heir to the throne, the baby boy Kaemen, lies.  She enters his body through his mouth, and under her malign influence he grows up to be a selfish, cruel, misanthropic, obese and feminine creep, totally unlike his noble father Tharanodeth.

Our hero is a boy approximately the same age as Kaemen, a foundling who mysteriously appeared in Kaemon's cradle alongside the prince.  The monarch Tharanodeth names him "Ginna" and preserves him when the court wizard, Hadel the Rat, thinking this enigmatic child must be some kind of threat or ill omen, wants to kill him.  Ginna grows up in the shadows, but periodically is summoned by Tharanodeth; the ruler prefers mysterious Ginna to his own, repulsive, son.  Tharanodeth dies when Kaemen and Ginna are twelve, and Kaemen ascends to the throne.

Schweitzer's setting is as evocative as his characters.  Kaemen is monarch of the Holy City of Ai Hanlo, a town built into a mountain at the center of a flat plain; his title, like that of his father before him, is "Guardian of the Bones of the Goddess," because beneath the city lie the bones of their people's deity.  This Goddess is always depicted as a figure with two opposing aspects, one radiant and good and one stygian and evil. When she died in the distant past her soul split into dozens of "Powers," half of them "Bright," half "Dark."

Hadel the Rat suspects Ginna is destined for greatness, and briefly takes him as his apprentice, and intimates that, should Ginna leave Ai Hanlo, he must seek a "lady in a grove."  At age fifteen Ginna and a girlfriend flee Kaemen's increasingly bloody reign of terror and travel across the world, joining first a merchant caravan and then a ship crewed by aged warrior mystics.  The witch dwelling within Kaemen, meanwhile, sets into motion the apocalyptic transition of the current age to the next, an age of darkness!  Can Ginna, with his innate powers, the knowledge he has gained during his journey, and the help of the mysterious "lady of the grove," save the world?  Or at least ensure that the next age will be one in which light and dark are balanced?

My copy, back cover.  These are
faithful representations of characters
from the novel.
The Shattered Goddess is quite entertaining, though it is open to some criticisms.  Personally, I thought some of the climactic scenes, in which the new world is going through its birth pangs and we are learning all the secrets about Ginna's and the Goddess's origins and destinies, were too drawn out, went on a little too long.  Momentous, cosmic events involving the births and deaths of deities and universes lose their power if they become belabored and familiar.

Some might object to the high volume of gore and violence in Schweitzer's novel--torture, executions, self-mutilations, and dreadful wounds suffered by people climbing fortifications in their bare feet or engaging in desperate hand to hand fights with monsters all figure prominently.  It is fair to say the book has plentiful horror elements and a grim atmosphere.  Some might be disappointed that Ginna spends almost the entire novel as a child who moves from mentor to mentor, and that the story is essentially fatalistic, deterministic.  (Ginna, Kaemen, and even the witch who dominates Kaemen, are pawns of Fate.)  Maybe I should also point out that the book seems to have a higher than average proportion of typographical errors.

Despite these caveats, I liked The Shattered Goddess and think sword and sorcery and "dark fantasy" fans might find it worth a look; Stephen Fabian fans should definitely get a copy.  I'll pick up more books by Schweitzer if I see them for the low low price at which I got this one; I'd be particularly interested in getting collections of stories like We Are All Legends and Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out which feature more illustrations by Fabian.

1 comment:

  1. Darrell likes to joke that unsigned copies of his books are more valuable -- because rarer -- so perhaps you shouldn't be surprised that it was signed!

    I really liked Fabian's stuff too. As for Schweitzer, I particularly like his Eqyptian-themed stories about the sorcerer Sekenre (MASK OF THE SORCERER).