I thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence M. Schoen’s debut novel ‘Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard’ a couple of years back and became enchanted with his tale of arboreal elephants on the planet Barsk and their limited relationship with the multi-special Alliance of Worlds. In ‘The Moons Of Barsk’, we meet some of the same characters again: the historian, Jorl, who is now an Alliance senator and the young albino, Pizlo, shunned by society as an abomination.
Their wonderfully unique society quickly came back to mind, with their tree-top villages, perpetual rain and compulsion to sail off in search of the elephant’s graveyard when death was near. This time, there was much more in store that remained undiscovered in the previous book.
Some of the Fant who live on Barsk are Speakers, able to perceive the nefshon particles that form the essence of sentient individuals. Even after a person has died, they can summon the dispersed nefshons and converse with a memory construct of that person. Much of this subject was explored in the last book, but this time the characters explore the many other possibilities that the use of nefshons open up, questioning ages-old prohibitions and traditions.
Lawrence M. Schoen’s prose is once again invisibly smooth, allowing the story to flow from scene to scene as revelations and developments follow on from each other. The gradual realisation that Jorl is not the only Fant to have broken ages-old edicts makes for fascinating reading as the extent of various surprising aspects of their society is explored. Several things that remained curiously unexplained in the first book are also revisited, things that could be taken for granted before but now suddenly took on greater significance.
The adolescent Pizlo is a superb character, cut off from contact with most of society due to his status as an abomination. He spends much time communing with inanimate objects and being shunned by everyone else, but he’s such a big-hearted Fant who always looks for the good in others, despite his life-long mistreatment.
His wanderings and musings form a poignant backdrop to the high-level interactions of Jorl’s work as a senator as he starts to consider how Fant society can be re-integrated with the Alliance as a whole. At the same time, other powerful figures skilled in the manipulation of nefshons are proceeding with their own plans to preserve the Fant race against the Alliance who shunned and exiled them to Barsk.
The really clever part is how there are, for the most part, no good and bad characters or people here, but only people with different viewpoints and ideologies. All of them seem equally sincere and their plans all seem sound. How Pizlo can find a place in society is just as troublesome as how the Fant can take part in Alliance society and the journey this novel takes is both touching and breath-taking. I am certainly looking forward to what will happen next.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: TOR/Forge. 430 page small hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $34.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-9463-7)
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com and www.lawrencemschoen.com