“The Sacred Band” is a classic work of heroic fantasy. This novel takes place deep within the established rules of Janet Morris’s Thieves World, and I like that it doesn’t waste any time on throwaway passages designed to “catch up” those readers who are new to the realm. This is a sink or swim type novel, and the reader as well as the characters involved are not the least bit coddled. The result is that you start to acquire a sense of achievement as you piece together all the clues, as if you have earned the right to enjoy this world and become a member of its legions of fans.
The first Thieves World novel is “Beyond Sanctuary,” and I believe I might tackle that one now that I’ve had a taste of Tempus and the Sacred Band of Stepsons. Janet and Chris Morris create a great classic ambiance in “The Sacred Band.” I found myself imagining a setting that looked much like Dante’s version of Hell decorated and populated with people and artifacts out of Greek Mythology.
The action is instant and non-stop, and the characters are not “squeaky clean” by any stretch of the imagination. For example, early on in the book Tempus takes a troop of new recruits into a brothel and decides to just wait and see “how things play out” when he begins hearing terrifying screams from the room of one of his charges. When the prostitute in question turns up dead a few days later, Tempus embarks on an investigation that is more about maintaining his own autonomy over his group than correcting any wrong. I like the fact that Janet and Chris Morris have the courage to make strong statements on wartime morality, rather than try to push modern society’s sometimes hypocritical views of right and wrong into a setting that simply cannot support it (Thieves World deals with individuals who have bigger issues than whether or not the phone store has run out of the 4G portable you’ve been dreaming about for six months–yes, there was a time when people had REAL issues to deal with people).
The Morris’s make some interesting stylistic choices in their writing. Quite a bit of the novel is written in the present tense. At first I found the switches from past to present tense a bit jarring, but after a while I began to enjoy the emphasis on immediacy that the present tense passages provided. The tense shifts help put you in the proper frame of mind to correctly comprehend the more traditionally written text. This is a novel that’s happening here and now, and there is a certain sensory overload that the writing creates when you allow yourself to fall into step with it.
Overall, “The Sacred Band” evokes the brutality and lyricism of Robert E. Howard combined with the old school “sword and sandal” movies we all grew up watching. For those of you who aren’t quite up for the challenge of swimming in the deep end, you might want to check out “Beyond Sanctuary.” For the rest of you, buckle up and prepare to enjoy the ride!