Song Of The Sulh by Maria J. Leel (book review).

Names are vitally important in any work of fiction, whether they are the names of people or places. Choose the wrong ones and the credibility of the whole plot can be compromised. With fantasy or off-world SF involving aliens, the main consideration is to appear consistent. Many authors do this well and take great care with their choices of name. Near future, Earth-based literature is a whole different thing. For whatever reason, names have been changed in our lifetimes. Rhodesia reverted to being Zimbabwe for logical reasons. The colonial name was artificial and with independence, the country rightly wanted to call itself something that reflected its history. Places in India and China have done the same thing for similar reasons.

Some places may have more than one name, depending on perspective. From the White Cliffs of Dover, the stretch of water between us and France is the English Channel, from Calais, it is La Manche. Names are different in different languages and language itself changes. Names become corrupted over time. What does not tend to happen is a place changes its name completely overnight to something totally unrelated – at least, not without the decree of an absolute ruler. So why change names just for the sake of changing them?

Song Of The Sulh by Maria J. Leel	(book review).

To be fair in this case, not all the blame can be accorded to Maria Leel. She is in the unenviable position in having been granted permission to write a novel set in someone else’s creation, albeit one that she loves. In some places, she is constrained by what is already in place.

Storm Constantine created a hermaphrodite race, the Wraeththu, as successors to the human race. As the Wraeththu gained ascendance, so humanity declined. The number of years that have passed since the first emergence of the new race and the time of Constantine’s and hence this novel has always been vague. No-one knows the life span of members of the new race but none have yet been recorded to have died of old age. There are still humans around and, presumably, some of them are breeding, though not in great numbers. At the start of ‘Song Of The Sulh, the Wraeththu haven’t worked out how to do it, all their new members come from incepting young human males through blood contamination.

This novel began life as a short story that was originally published in ‘Paragenesis’, an anthology of Wraeththu stories. In this form it was a good, well-shaped piece of shared-world fiction. ‘Song Of The Sulh’ continues the story of Raven, a youth from the Mountain Tribes (Native Americans) of North America (rechristened Megalithica by Constantine). With his new Wraeththu tribe and his lover, Fen, we have a tour of some of the other aspects of the emerging culture. Then they head across the Atlantic (sorry, the Girdle of Tiamat) to Britain (now called Alba Sulh).

Later, after Fen has introduced Raven to his Wraeththu tribe, they head off across the Bay of Biscay (Cantabri) and into the Mediterranean (Maghrebeuropan Sea), ending up in Malta (Malita) before travelling onwards to…

There is no problem naming a new places where no-one who knew the original name is around to provide it. Changing names by common consent of the inhabitants or reverting to an older extant name is not a problem. The wholesale renaming of places on a whim doesn’t work and only confuses the reader.

The plot itself is very linear and episodic and feels more like a series of short stories featuring the same characters and then strung together. Most episodes would have worked well as an entity in its own right but presented as a novel lacks complexity and there is never a real feeling that the characters are in mortal danger.

Constantine wrote six extensive novels to develop the Wraeththu mythos, Leel is trying to pack that much and more into one and using so many tropes from the originals that it becomes unbelievable that these few characters should have been around for so many of the major developments.

Leel is a competent writer. Many writers develop their skills by writing additional stories about characters they love from the works of others. Rarely do or should these see the light of day. Perhaps now it is time for Leel to develop a magical world of her own and people it with original characters of her own imagining.

Probably many fans of Constantine’s work will welcome this book but it pales alongside the originals.

Pauline Morgan

November 2012

(pub: Immanion Press, Stafford, UK. 308 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907737-07-7)
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