Monday, 28 September 1998

Julian May: The Non-Born King (1983)

Edition: Pan, 1983
Review number: 121

The third of May's Saga of the Exiles follows on from the climactic events of The Golden Torc, which ended with the Atlantic flooding in past Gibraltar to begin the creation of the modern Mediterranean. The three communities, Tanu, human and Firvulag, are all seeking to rebuild in various ways, the different factions among them trying to use the chaos - coming more from the deaths of a large proportion of the Tanu ruling class than from the other damage done - to seize power and influence events.

The major factions are the main body of the Tanu, led by the extraordinary human Aiken Drum (a test-tube baby, the non-born king of the title); the traditionalist Tanu, looking for a return to the old ways of before the arrival of the humans; the Firvulag, who escaped from the catastrophe relatively unscathed but in uneasy alliance with Drum; the Howlers, deformed Firvulag who have finally discovered that the radioactive stone around their country is causing their problem and desiring re-integration with the main body of Firvulag society; a peace faction, led by the human operant Elizabeth; and the remnants of the Lowlives, human rebels against the Tanu, who have discovered that the aliens are poisoned by iron.

Into the political bickering of these well-established factions erupts a new force. Marc Remeillard is familiar to those who have read May's later published (though earlier conceived) novels, Intervention and the Galactic Milieu trilogy. I don't remember his introduction into the story being confusing the first time I read The Non-Born King, without the benefit of reading the later books, but I can easily see that it might cause a great deal of difficulty for a reader. The story is that after the rebellion's failure (detailed in the Galactic Milieu trilogy), a band of the metapsychics involved escaped through the time gate, lead by Remeillard, who was the main instigator of the rebellion. (Hence, to the people of the Milieu he is known as Abaddon, or the Adversary.) This group settled in Pleistocene Florida, where they have been searching for the early civilizations of the other species who make up the Galactic Milieu. The disorganisation of Tanu society has now convinced some of the younger members of the group that they can take advantage of the confusion to take over the time gate and construct a mechanism to enable them to return to the future.

As The Many Coloured Land was a preparation for the dramatic events of The Golden Torc, this novel is a scene setter for the climax of the series in The Adversary. The plot is less exciting, though the alien politics are interesting. The focus of the book is on establishing new characters and deepening our understanding of old ones. This process does reveal some limitations in May's ability to create characters that differ in depth as well as on the surface; many of the alien characters are extremely sketchy.

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