Book Review: The Golden Torc by Julian May (Series, #2)
The group of people who traveled from the future to the Pliocene past for a willful exile were split into two by the alien race, the Tanu, who, surprisingly, inhabits Earth. Half were sent to slave labor, while the others were deemed talented at mind powers, given necklace-like torcs to enhance those powers, and sent to the capital city of Muriah. In the first book, we followed the daring escape of the group sent into slavery. They then discovered that the Tanu share the Earth with the Firvulag–an alien race from their home planet that has many similarities to their own. They also organized an attack on the industrial city of Finiah. This book at first follows the adventures of the other group, the one sent to the capital city of Muriah. Through them we discover the inner workings of the Tanu, the intersections of humans and aliens, and the impact of the human/Firvulag attack on Finiah. When the time for the Great Combat between the Tanu/human subjects and the Firvulag arrives, the survivors of the escaped slave group end up coming back into contact with the group of humans in Muriah. With dire consequences.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, finding it to be a delightful mash-up of scifi and fantasy. When I discovered my library had the next book in the series, I picked it up as quickly as possible. This entry feels more fantastical than the first, although science definitely still factors in. It is richer in action and intrigue and perhaps a bit less focused on character development.
This is a difficult book to sum up, since so very much happens. It’s an action-packed chunkster, providing the reader with information and new settings without ever feeling like an info-dump. The medieval-like flare of the Tanu and the goblin/fairie/shapeshifter qualities of the Firvulag are stronger in this entry, and it is delightful. Creating a medieval world of aliens on ancient Earth is probably the most brilliant part of the book, followed closely by the idea of torcs enhancing the brain’s abilities. May has created and weaved a complex, fascinating world that manages to also be easy enough to follow and understand. The sense of the medieval-style court is strong from the clothing, buildings, and organization of society. She doesn’t feel the need to willy-nilly invent lots of new words, which I really appreciated.
The intrigue is so complex that it is almost impossible to summarize, and yet it was easy to follow while reading it. Surprises lurk around every corner, and May is definitely not afraid to kill her darlings, following both William Faulkner’s and Stephen King’s writing advice. A lot happens in the book, the characters are tested, and enough change happens that I am excited there are still two more books, as opposed to wondering how the author could possibly tell more story. In spite of the action, sometimes the book did feel overly long, with long descriptions of vegetation and scenery far away from where most of the action was taking place.
The book is full of characters but every single one of them manages to come across as a unique person, even the ones who are not on-screen long enough to be fully three-dimensional. The cast continues to be diverse, similarly to the first book, with a variety of races, ages, and sexual preferences represented. I was surprised by the addition of a transwoman character. She is treated with a mix of acceptance and transphobia. I think, certainly for the 1980s when this was published, it is overall a progressive presentation of her. She is a doctor who is well-respected in Tanu society. However, she also is presented as a bit crazy (not because of being trans but in addition to being trans), and it is stated by one character that she runs the fertility clinic because it is the one part of being a woman that will always be out of her grasp. I am glad at her inclusion in the story but readers should be aware that some aspects of the writing of her and how other characters interact with her could be considered problematic or triggering. I would be interested to hear a transperson’s analysis of her character.
Overall, this entry in the series ramps up the action and more thoroughly investigates the world of the Pliocene Exile. Readers disappointed by the lack of information on the half of the group heading to the capital city in the first book will be pleased that their story is told in this one. Characters are added, including a transwoman doctor, and all continue to feel completely individual and easily decipherable, in spite of the growing cast list. The fast action pace sometimes is interrupted by lengthy descriptions of settings far away from the action, but overall the chunkster of the book moves along at a good pace and remains engaging. Recommended to fans of fantasy who want a touch of science in their stories and who are interested in the idea of medieval aliens.
4 out of 5 stars