THE PSALMS OF HEROD
by Esther M. Friesner
White Wolf Borealis, ISBN 1-56504-916-0, 1995, 478pp, US$5.99
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper
If Esther Friesner can write something like this, why is she wasting her time on Chicks in Chainmail?
Well, okay, I'm sure that Chicks in Chainmail pays the rent, while a serious novel like The Psalms of Herod pays for espresso. It's the way of the world. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But judging by the number of articles mentioning on Chicks in Chainmail on the Net (forty-one) compared to the number mentioning The Psalms of Herod (eleven, six of which are announcements from bookstores), I suspect I'm not.
But back to the book.
I will try to avoid giving away too much of the plot, which will probably make this a bit vague. The time is the future, and there has been some sort of holocaust. The world is much more sparsely populated, and there has been a return to a more pioneer society--and a more religious one. There are identifiable elements from present religions but, not surprisingly, there have also been some changes because of the changed situation. Friesner doesn't have an "expository lump" to tell the reader what the society is like, but relies on the reader picking up on the details as they are given as part of the story. The society is not a likable one--not the cozy families of the post-holocaust novels of the 1950s or even the survivalist discipline of more recent works--but it is consistent. There are echoes of Walter Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz here, as well as of George Stewart's Earth Abides, but only echoes--Friesner has looked at the paths others have taken in this genre, and struck out on her own.
There are a couple of problems. The main problem is that turns out to be yet another first book of a bleedin' series. And there is no warning of this on the cover or anywhere in the book--except on the last page, where they advertise the next book, Sword of Mary, due out in October of 1996.
The other problem is that I am not entirely convinced about the likelihood or even possibility of the basic assumption of the book. With a lesser author this might be more of an objection, but Friesner handles the plot and characters so well that I am willing to suspend my disbelief in this regard.
I am trying to avoid revealing too much, and the result is probably somewhat incoherent. Come back and re-read this after you've read the book and it will be much clearer.
[Note: This is a trade paperback, but it is the size that one thinks of as "mass market." "Trade" and "mass market" have meanings based on distribution methods, not size. In other words, don't go looking for an oversize book.]
%T The Psalms of Herod %A Esther M. Friesner %C New York %D 1995 %I White Wolf Borealis %O trade paperback, US$5.99 %G ISBN 1-56504-916-0 %P 478pp %S Mary %V 1
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