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Bradley, M.Z.
book-date: 1975
cvr art:
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George Barr

DAW 5th printing late-Seventies paperback. Cover by George Barr, 381 pages, $1.95 cover price. Condition is Fine: tight and square with flat spine; age tanning is very mild and uniform. No stamps, marks or writing - a clean copy.

The Heritage of Hastur: this takes place relatively late in the "Darkover" series, and is the first to feature Regis Hastur. This is my favorite book by Bradley, and makes my "top 10" list of best SF books - by anybody.

Though Terrans had first settled Darkover, now no love is lost between the two planets, despite the Terran Empire's starship bases there. Seven Domains, run by the telepathic Comyn, rule Darkover - and they have succesfully resisted anything that might lead to amalgamation by the Empire. The Hastur family heads the strongest Domain, with Danvan Hastur as Regent of the Seven Domains. Years before, in the Ages of Chaos, the Aldaran Domain was exiled from the Comyn Council.

Regis, the last Hastur and heir to the domain, has come to Thendara to take his place in the pageant of rule - to take a tour of duty in the city Guard like all Comyn, and be trained in statecraft by his grandfather before taking his own place on the Comyn Council. But he is in despair - for if at 15 years of age he has not developed telepathic laran powers, the inherited asset of the ruling Comyn families, he will probably never develop them. But his friend Lew, heir to the Alton domain, discovers otherwise. Although Regis' powers are blocked, still their potential exists. Lew is Tower-trained, an expert on laran powers and the jewel-like matrix stones which the Comyn use to channel their powers and enhance them. He thinks they may be on the verge of uncovering the cause of Regis' block, but other events come to a head and he is abruptly called to Aldaran on a diplomatic mission, at the same time that a rift opens between him and his father on the Council. Regis is left to deal with the aftermath of the disgrace of his best friend in the Guard, Danilo - who has been falsely accused by their Commander and dishonorably discharged from the Guard. This is made doubly worse by the fact that Danilo has an especially rare laran talent, which the Comyn would surely want if they knew of it. Regis takes responsiblity to right this wrong, and is willing to follow it to the edge of death.

At the same time, Lew has reached Aldaran, where he learns that Terran weapons are being bought and sold openly - a violation of the Compact formed at the end of the Ages of Chaos, to ensure that its horrors would never recur. By the Compact, Darkovans were forbidden to carry any weapons capable of killing without putting the user in the direct and immediate position of being killed himself. Therefore, while swords and daggers were permitted on Darkover, most alien weapons (especially guns or blasters) are forbidden. Kermiac, Lord Aldaran, is determined that Darkover be accepted as independent and equal in the eyes of the Terran Empire, and he sees the Darkovan matrix technology as something that can be offered or demonstrated to show they deserve equality. But they don't have enough trained telepaths to control a high-level Matrix strong enough to be impressive. Lew is willing to work with Beltran, Kermiac's son, along with several of Kermiac's wards, and the mysterious Robert Kadarin, training them to create a laran circle.

Lew falls in love with the proposed Keeper of the Circle, Marjorie - a dangerous act since detachment and precision are needed to control the powerful forces they plan to deal with. Another problem is that the only high-level Matrix available to them was used as a weapon during the Ages of Chaos. Kadarin and Beltran, unwilling to accept what they see as superstition, believe that they can control the Sharra matrix's malevolent destructiveness... unaware that the stone can corrupt and control the minds of the circle members. At first things go well, but they need more telepaths to do what they desire, so Beltran orders the kidnapping of Danilo, who he was told had no love for the Comyn. But Danilo had already sworn himself to Regis' service, and refused to co-operate. Beltran was already ambitious before encountering the Sharra matrix - when his father's death makes him Lord Aldaran things go very badly and Sharra is unleashed: out of control. Then Lew is forced against his will to participate in the rages of destruction that Sharra unleashes on the countryside and the Terran city of Caer Donn - in a grim demonstration that the Compact was developed to protect mainly from laran weapons.

This is great stuff - the fate of kingdoms and cities in the balance, personal loyalty tested and demonstrated, old truths brought to light, the sacrifice of youthful ideals for the realization of responsibility... and overhanging all is a sense of impending doom and tragedy to come. There are also flashes of humor and wonder, too. My plot summary may seem long, but it barely starts to give the idea of this detailed, well-thought, integrated book. Bradley uses the narration method of alternating chapter viewpoints between Regis Hastur and Lew Alton, and it works very well in giving different perspectives to events when they separate in the middle and then converge to finish. Bradley fashions a very satisfying ending by bringing all her plot threads to hard-won conclusions. This one is a Keeper.