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.