Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Forsake the Sky

You're an apprentice painter and fencing student on a planet slowly slipping out of the grip of a fading galactic empire. When your father is killed and you're put on the run from the law, what choice is there but to seize the planet's throne yourself..? 

Appearing first as The Skies Discrowned (1976) and republished ten years later as Forsake the Sky, this early Tim Powers novel hardly feels as though it were written by the same man who penned The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard, Last Call, Three Days to Never and other well-regarded works of steampunk fantasy. Shorter than his later works, with a far more linear plot, Forsake the Sky is fairly straightforward planetary romance, with a dashing young hero seeking both vengeance and a new place in the world. There are no demons or monsters here, no time travel, no magic; only spaceships and a galactic empire, which serve only as the setting of the story, dispensed with in a couple of introductory paragraphs. There are intrigues, chases and sword fights aplenty, sketched out with deft but simple prose and an undercurrent of wry, self-deprecating humour.

Though less complex and ambitious than his later novels, Forsake the Skies still serves as a quick entertaining read with a likeable hero, the orphaned painter and swordsman Frank Rovzar. Like later Powers heroes, Frank is gifted with peerless skills but pays a heavy price for them, suffering not only the loss of his father, but his lover and even some of his body parts. And there's another Powers touch: fictional poet William Ashbless, created by Powers and in some ways the star of The Anubis Gates, is mentioned in passing.

Casual fans of science fiction will find Forsake the Sky an enjoyable but perhaps ultimately forgettable effort. But for those fortunate enough to have enjoyed Powers' later works, this early novel offers a valuable glimpse of an artist who would evolve into one of the genre's masters.

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