by John F. Carr
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In many ways, John F. Carr’s Kalvan Kingmaker is a very strange book. A sequel to H. Beam Piper’s Paratime and Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, it is also a sequel to Carr’s own Great King’s War, which has been out of print since the early 1990s. Furthermore, Kalvan Kingmaker clearly serves as a transition book between Piper and Carr’s earlier works and Carr’s subsequent novels in the milieu. Because of these factors, the book needs to achieve several different agendas, some of which it does successfully, some less well.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Kalvan, the character was invented by H. Beam Piper and fit into several stories about the Paratime police. The Kalvan stories were combined to create a fix-up novel, The Gunpowder God. Kalvan is really Calvin Morrison, a Pennsylvania state trooper who finds himself in a world in which North America was colonized by Greeks from the west. Kalvan found himself in conflict with the priests of Styphon, who held the secret to gunpowder (fireseed) until Kalvan introduced it more widely. By the time Kalvan Kingmaker has begun, Kalvan has become the Great King of the new kingdom of Hos-Hostigos, and the priests of Styphon are still trying to overthrow him and solidify their power.Carr has woven a Byzantine tapestry of plots into his novel as he follows not only Kalvan’s attempts to secure the border of Hos-Hostigos, but also follows the priests of Styphon in their battle against Kalvan, the Nomads of the Seas of Grass, the old cultures of the west coast, and the various factions of the Paratime organization and time-line. The result is a book which is realistic in its complexity and a feast for those who relish military novels, but is rather light on characterization. By the time a reader is getting engrossed in any specific character, Carr jumps to another character to further the plot.
Near the beginning of the novel, there is a certain amount of redundancy as Carr is intent on making sure his readers are familiar with the outline of the world (and Paratime around it) as created by Piper in his short stories and novel, as well as advanced in Great King’s War. Eventually, the redundancy is done away with and Carr is able to focus more clearly on advancing the story, although at the end Kalvan Kingmaker is clearly simply setting up for the next novel in the cycle, Siege of Tarr-Hostigos. By the time Carr comes to his semi-ending, however, he has settled several hooks into the reader, often by merely hinting at some of the behind the scenes activity.
Although underplayed, one of the most intriguing aspects of Kalvan Kingmaker is the power struggle within the church of Styphon between those who actually believe in the god and those who simply see the temple as a means of achieving power. While it isn't clear that the future novels will make this conflict more overt, it is definitely something which catches the reader's attention.
The primary goal of Kalvan Kingmaker is to allow the author and the reader to enjoy the world which H. Beam Piper created more than forty years ago. In this, Carr is right on the money. Although he has stretched the horizon of Piper's world, everything in the novel feels right. Piper may never have written this book, but the reader feels as if Piper would have approved.