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Thunderlord
by Marions Zimmer Bradley & Deborah J. Ross
Daw, $7.99, 420 pp
Published: August 2017

I suppose it is notable that Ross is trying to keep Darkover alive for its fans.  But the writing, unfortunately, is not.

This is one of just two stories placed in the Age of Chaos on Darkover; a generation after the events of Stormqueen! A pivotal character from Stormqueen! was Dorilys who was responsible for the deaths of many of her family’s enemies using a form of laran that controls weather, particularly lightning.  A generation later, the scion of that family that was devastated by Dorilys’ power, harbors a deep-seated grudge and fear that the responsible Aldaran family will birth another child with the horrible powers and wreak further havoc on the Scathfells.  To combat that possibility, he contrives to marry into an impoverished family that carries the gift to control weather in order to breed his own weather-witch.  This minor family, the Rockravens, have two daughters and the bride-price and the honor of marrying into an aristocratic family was not to be ignored.  Both daughters journey across the Hellers, the younger one accompanying her sister with the prospect of making some kind of decent marriage for herself.  The party is attacked by outlaws and the oldest sister stolen.  The prince’s men decide they should protect the younger sister and get her to safety above all other considerations.  The party had made the casual acquaintance of a young man on the road who was not bound by orders from the Scathfell lord and made the rescue of the lost sister his priority.  When word comes to the younger sister, Alayna, that the kidnappers killed her sister, Kyria, she gives into despair.  The Scathfell lord, Gwynn-Alar, is not insensitive to her pain and in the process of comforting Alayna, the two fall in love, eventually marrying.  Scathfell is more than pleased that he still has the genes from Rockraven for his future children in a woman he really loved.  Unfortunately, Alayna’s attempts to provide the desired heir fall short.

Eventually, events come to light proving the tale of her sister’s death was incorrect.  The reason and subsequent events drive Gwynn-Alar to madness, reigniting his paranoia that Aldaran intends to destroy his family.  The role of that young man who attempts to rescue Kyria was so terribly transparent and yet, I did want to know what happened.  Unfortunately, the author, in an attempt to introduce some mystery, dropped both Kyria and the young man, Edric, out of the story for over 100 pages.  It only irritated me.

On the surface, this is a pretty standard tale of Darkover.  But the plotting is shallow and the characters superficial and one-dimensional.  There were no surprises and it was so easy to predict where the story was going.  I thought the dialogue was a touch amateurish which was a surprise to me.  Now, I’ve been reading Darkover stories for decades and I confess that I do remember some of the shorter, earlier stories were lightly plotted, but I remember the characters were always vibrant and interesting.  I think Ms. Ross is trying too hard to emulate the Darkover ‘model’ for stories and forgot to relax and simply tell the story with the characters.  This book had a distinct feel of a young adult level story but not as sophisticated.   ~~ Catherine Book

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