Julian May






Book 2 of The Saga of Pliocene Exile
Houghton Mifflin, 1982
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

THE GOLDEN TORC begins while the events of Book One of this series, THE MANY-COLORED LAND, are still playing out somewhere to the north. Here, the other members of the time-traveling group designated as Group Green are being warmly welcomed in Muriah, the capitol city of the tall, beautiful aliens known as Tanu. The Tanu society has need of humans, and humans with valued talents are taken to the capitol to be integrated if possible into Tanu society.

Elizabeth Orme is the only person among the entire human and Tanu population of the Pliocene era whose mind powers are operational without the help of a torc, a mechanical mind-amplifier worn around the neck. Silver torcs have built-in control circuits, so silver torc wearers can be commanded by anyone wearing a gold torc. Gold torcs are worn by Tanu, or sometimes granted to humans who have proven their loyalty. This form of mechanical psychic crutch is self-limiting, at a mental level far below that of the lonely, despairing Elizabeth.

It has been foreseen that the Tanu will someday evolve to be free of the need for torcs. Scheming minds see Elizabeth as the key to speeding up this evolution, whether she takes part in the breeding program willingly, or not. Elizabeth is outraged at the idea of being bred to King Thagdal like a mare. Her mentor, Brede (not a pun), foresees that Elizabeth is the person crucial to fulfilling the future of the Tanu and their brothers/enemies the Firvulag. Yet Brede is willing to let Elizabeth make her own choices, and to help protect her from the 242 children of Thagdal’s queen. (Did I mention the Tanu live for thousands of years? Plenty of time to have that many children.) The queen’s children see Elizabeth as a threat to their dynasty.

Aiken Drum is another highly talented person from Group Green. Unlike Elizabeth, the clever, mischief-making little clown in his suit of cloth-of-gold takes to Tanu society like a fish to water. Flickering here, there, and everywhere, he wins laughter, admiration, and finally acclaim as his psychic powers develop. Sponsored by the Tanu Kingmaker, Aiken Drum is suddenly a threat to Nodonn Battlemaster, most formidable of the sons of the queen. The Kingmaker’s only question is, does Aiken have a heart?

Bryan Grenfell, a cultural anthropologist, goes willingly to the capitol because he is seeking Mercy, a mysterious misfit who captured his love in the Galactic Milieu. He finds her ecstatically at home with the Tanu. All her fantasies are fulfilled, including winning the love of Nodonn Battlemaster, who appears as the god Apollo. The enchanting succubus Mercy, who drains the life from every man she fastens on, is another of Julian May’s wonderful villains. Her fascination and her hunger are both recognizable as those of any young human woman – it is Mercy’s power that has allowed her to indulge those qualities to dangerous levels. Her ability to create beauty and treats for the crowds with the power of her mind disguises a young woman who will stop at nothing to have what she wants.

For millennia the Tanu and Firvulag have gathered yearly, to fight the ritualized battles for which they were outlawed in their own galaxy. Even though humans have helped the Tanu dominate the Grand Combat for decades, Nodonn opposes the inclusion of humans in Tanu society. His father, King Thagdal, is trying to make Nodonn see that the Tanu have benefited greatly from human innovations, so he requires Bryan, the anthropologist, to do an unbiased study of the effects of humans on the Tanu. Bryan, oblivious to everything but Mercy, doesn’t notice the dangerous implications of his study.

As Tanu, Firvulag, and humans gather for the Great Combat, the deadly Felice is rescued from a Tanu prison. Her powers, which were so important to the free humans’ attack on Finiah in THE MANY-COLORED LAND, have grown even greater as a result of torture. We find that everything has been pointing to this: Felice versus Tanu equals cataclysm.

THE GOLDEN TORC, even more compellingly than the book that begins the series, develops the characters, the culture, the private maneuverings and grand gestures. Above all, the lights, emphasized everywhere in the Mediterranean setting, create a radiant spectacle. Irresistibly human, irresistibly visual, irresistibly suspenseful, THE GOLDEN TORC will leave you charged for the sequel, THE NONBORN KING, which is then followed by THE ADVERSARY.

THE GOLDEN TORC is out of print at the moment, though I just now found two dozen copies available on alone. These books are classics, deserving to be kept constantly in print. Don’t wait for a reissue. Give yourself the treat of tracking down all four books of the series from a secondhand source, and allowing the Many-Colored Land to take over your own world.

June 2004 Review


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