Thunderlord by Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah J. Ross (book review).

For anyone unfamiliar with the ‘Darkover’ series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley, it is Science Fiction with fantasy overtones. Although the earliest stories appear to be fantasy, as the series develops, it becomes clear that Darkover is a ‘lost colony’ much in the same way Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is. Over the centuries when contact with the home world was lost the colonists developed their own society.

There is, in later novels, a spaceport but the rules are that no firearms are permitted into the interior so that any warfare has to be carried out with swords and bows. Some of the inhabitants of Darkover have developed psychic powers which they call laran. The first publications set in this universe was in 1958 with ‘The Planet Savers’. After Bradley’s death in 1999, Deborah J. Ross took over the writing of the ‘Darkover’ sequence partly from notes left behind.

Thunderlord’ is, in the ‘Darkover’ chronology, a sequel to ‘Stormqueen!’ which was originally published in 1978. It involves the Scathfell and Aldaran families which have been in a state of feud since the events of ‘Stormqueen!’ Gwynn, Lord Scathfell, has lived in fear of an Aldaran attack since he was a child. The Aldaran line has the power to manipulate storms. His family-line has no laran so, to remedy that, he decides to wed a Rockhaven daughter. The Rockhaven family are poor nobility, so the offer of marriage from the rich Lord Scathfell is attractive. Consequently, Kyria Rockhaven travels with her sister Alayna to be wed to a man she has never met. At a way-station en route, they meet Edric, another traveller. Not long after, the party is attacked by bandits and Kyria abducted. Edric goes to try and rescue her.

When Kyria is reported to be dead, Gwynn marries Alayna instead. In fact, Kyria has survived and has fallen in love with Edric, who just happens to be Lord Aldaran. She instigates the deception because she feels that no-one will believe that she is still a pure maiden having been captured by bandits and then travelling unchaperoned across the country. Thus the two sisters find themselves on opposite sides of the feud.

If this sounds a bit like a Mills & Boon novel with a fantasy setting, then it is. It has the typical romance set with difficulty. This is a shame because the original ‘Darkover’ novels were far edgier. Bradley’s work tended to court controversy, especially among feminists who were unable to grasp the issues of species survival in a society where they had the leisure to make choices Bradley’s characters could not. While the ‘Darkover’ setting is well realised in ‘Thunderlord’, the novel is essentially safe and may be regarded merely as a fantasy romance. This is a pity as the era of ‘Darkover’ that it is set in should be more challenging. To understand the situation better, it would perhaps be better to return to some of the earlier novels.

Pauline Morgan

February 2020

(pub: DAW, 2017. 420 page paperback. Price: $ 7.00 (US), $10.00 (CAN), £ 5.86 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7564-1055-1)

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