by Harry Turtledove



336/$24.95/December 2008

The Breath of God

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The ending of Harry Turtledoveís novel Beyond the Gap set the stage for its sequel to focus on battle between an alliance of the Raumsdalian empire and the Bizogot tribesmen against the invading Rulers from beyond the glacier.  In The Breath of God, Turtledove picks up where the first novel left off, as Count Hamnet Thyssen and his motley band leave the Raumsdalian capital of Nidaros to try to stop the threatening invaders.

While Turtledove spent much of the first novel creating the characters and their relationships, most of The Breath of God is spent focusing on their fight against and flight from the Rulers.  From the very beginning, Turtledove treats the readers to magic-enhanced battles between his small, but doughty, band and the Rulersí might.  A trip onto strange terrain is thrown in as a bonus.  Eventually, the non-stop action does take a break, however, it isnít long before Turtledove picks it up again.

The Rulers remain something of a mystery in The Breath of God, a departure from Turtledoveís usual multi-character viewpoint novels.  As far as the reader knows, they exist solely as an invading force that views others as sub-human.  Those few Rulers who Thyssen comes into contact with who arenít immediately killed in battle, offer little insight into any more complex into the Rulersí society and motives. Through two novels now, the Rulers have appeared as little more than bogeymen, although highly effective bogeymen.

Throughout The Breath of God, the Rulers have Thyssen and his band of heroes on the run. This is never more evident than when they must make a daring escape to the top of the glacier, where they discover an unknown area and, possibly, something which will save the Raumsdalian empire and the Bizogot tribesmen from the invasion.

While on the glacier, Thyssen and Liv, his Bizogot lover, also begin having problems of their own.  However, these problems crop up with reasonable suddenness and it is clear what the outcome is going to be. Turtledove could have incorporated more tension and suspense into their relationship, perhaps tying it in to the groupís flight from the Rulers across the glacier a little better.

Just as Beyond the Gap ended with the indication that the second book would be very different in nature, so, too, does The Breath of God end with the indication that the third novel, The Golden Shrine will be different, perhaps more of a travelogue.  It will be interesting to see how Turtledove completes this series that began by looking at character and moved on to providing non-stop action sequences.

The Breath of God is not as strong a novel as Beyond the Gap, but it is also a linking novel, between that first novel and a final novel in the series which, it is to be hoped, will provide Turtledove with plenty of new material to explore and allow his characters to grow and demonstrate their abilities and relationships.  Not only is it hoped that The Golden Shrine will show more of the strange land beyond the glacier, but it will also provide a deeper look into the alien Rulersí civilization.

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