Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Forbidden Tower

It's over a week since I posted here and it's not that I haven't been reading, I just haven't had a chance to blog about the three books I read in that time - too busy. Anyway, my main read this last ten days has been The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I've been reading this for Carl's Sci Fi Experience and this is my second book for that.



Goodness, where to start? Well. The book takes place on the planet of Darkover and concerns four people: Andrew Carr, a Terran, twin sisters Callista and Ellimir, and Damon Ridenow, an exile from the tower of Arilinn and a member of one of the ruling caste. They are all telepaths. Damon and Ellimir are engaged to be married and so are Andrew and Callista. Andrew and Callista met in the previous book when Callista was captured by the catpeople and buried alive - Andrew was the only person who could communicate with her telepathically. They fell in love without actually meeting.

It all sounds hunky-dory but of course it's not. Callista has been in training for many years to take over as Keeper of Arilinn tower from Leonie. (The towers somehow run things on Darkover and there're about half a dozen of them.) She has to beg Leonie to release her. Leonie is not best pleased as she is now elderly, and anyway there are complications. The training subdues sexuality in ways not really known, or known only to Leonie.

The two marriages take place with the full knowledge that Andrew and Callista will not be able to consummate their marriage until Callista can be fully set free from the confines of her rigourous training. Physical contact is unbearable to her and if they try before she is ready, Andrew could be killed. Damon, himself almost a Keeper before he was exiled by Leonie, is the key to it all. Only he has the knowledge and the daring to free Callista. In the meantime the four, bound telepathically into a very tight-knit group, have to support each other through many trials and tribulations in order to discover exactly 'how' reliant they must be on each other in order to get through this.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Darkover' series is quite well known I believe. There are over twenty books which all take place at various times during the planet's long history. This is my second Darkover book, the first being Darkover Landfall which told the story of how a group of Terrans crash-landed on the planet and what happened to them. I think it was the first book written but am not sure. I gather the books were all written to standalone and from what I can see this is the case. The Forbidden Tower is about in the middle of the series but I had no problem understanding what was going on... it seems like a series that is not actually a follow-on series in the true sense of the word.

Anyway, what this book does most successfully, imo, is make you think about the nature of sexuality. Just because we go the monogamous, 'pairing off' route on Earth, is that the only way... or indeed the 'right' way? Whatever your feelings on the matter it never harms to listen to other opinions. Ursula Le Guin did it brilliantly in her short story book, The Birthday of the World, I can't recommend that highly enough, and this is another book in that vein. Andrew is Terran and has firmly entrenched ideas and these ideas are almost as big a block to the new, fragile marriage as Callista's problems are. I must add that this is not an explicit book in any way shape or form, so anyone who dislikes that sort of thing need not fear.

This is not a hard-nosed science fiction novel. It's a story about how relationships work and have to be worked *at* to survive and thrive. But there is also conflict within the wider family and also between the rulers (towers) of Darkover and Damon Ridenow who wants change in respect of how Keepers are trained and how telepathy is used outside the towers. All this too made fascinating reading.

All in all, an excellent read. It's quite a dense, complicated novel, so not a quick read, but that was its charm for me. I read it slowly and savoured the good writing and twisty plot and enjoyed the strangeness of an alien planet but also the similarities. I have more Darkover books to read and *cough* two more on the way. I think I'm going to love this series to bits.

6 comments:

Jim Black said...

Very nice job reviewing this classic book. Yes, the series consists of mostly stand alone novels. This is one of what I consider the classic part of the series.

Bradley's Darkover series is a long time favorite of mine. I have not read any of them in recent years. Your review was a reminder to me that I need to review these on my blog.

Cath said...

Jim: Thank you. It's this part of the series that intrigues me the most. I got two more in the post this morning: Thendara House and The Shattered Chain. But I also have several from the Age of Chaos section of the series. These Darkover books and the Wess'har series by Karen Traviss should last me the year where sci fi is concerned.

Kailana said...

I have been meaning to read this series, but I haven't tackled it yet. I have read other series by Bradley, though, and I really enjoy her.

Cath said...

Kailana: I think part of the trouble is that there are so many good series around these days that it's hard to find time to read them all! I have half a dozen I want to start...

Biblibio said...

I've never gotten around to reading the Darkover books, but two things interest me. One: your point about this not being hard-nosed sci-fi, but nonetheless dense and interesting. I often feel like Bradley is dismissed as a mere feminist-fantasy author and not as much more. This sounds fairly fascinating and contrary to that claim.

Two: I have to wonder at the choice of book cover. It looks vaguely like a graphic novel with that choice of color and the giant MZB across the top... not particularly attractive, but rather interesting in its own right...

Cath said...

Biblibio: The cover doesn't really represent the actual contents of the story all that well, imo. I don't know much about graphic novels but it struck me as being rather 1950s in tone... 'Amazonian woman' type of thing.

It seems to me that female authors such as MZB or Sherri Tepper attract this 'feminist' tag and often in a derogatory way. As though the female pov is somehow invalid. I was witness to a LJ discussion once where some bloke dismissed Tepper as 'too feminist' for his taste. He was entitled to his opinion but I was left wondering why men feel that way about the opinions of half the world. It's sad really as this book is interesting and great at making you think deeply about relationship issues. Perhaps it's nothing personal and these people are just simply no good at thinking outside the box!