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Gideon's Wall

Greg Kurzawa

Riptide Press

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-9723456-0-4

Publication Date: 2004

Pages: 313; Price: $14.00

Date Reviewed: 24-08-03

Reviewed by: Katie Dean © 2003



Fantasy, Science Fiction

Shallai is a lost empire that mysteriously disappeared almost overnight forty years ago. 'Gideon's Wall' charts the search for the answers to this mystery. Greg Kurzawa's book seems to promise a fascinating novel about the process of reconstructing history and the reasons for doing so. However, this promising opening soon turns into a narrative account of the events behind the demise of Shallai. In so doing it becomes just another fantasy novel, passably imaginative and interesting, but lacking the kind of truly imaginative slant that would make such a novel stand out from the crowd. This should not deter readers from embarking upon the story of 'Gideon's Wall'. It is sufficiently well written to conjure up a new and interesting world, but otherwise unremarkable.

'Gideon's Wall' gives the impression of being set in Biblical times. However, it is clear from Kurzawa's descriptions that Shallai is not a little-mentioned Biblical land. The desert in which much of the novel is set, along with some highly suggestive names invoke the spirit of the ancient Middle Eastern world, but this is a world in which strange monsters and fantastical races live alongside the humans of Shallai. It is also a world full of aggression where nations are perpetually at war and Prophets predict the future. Kurzawa's descriptive powers bring his world to life and draw the reader into this imaginary land. It is unfortunate that Kurzawa's excellent descriptions and generally good narrative are marred by frequent colloquialisms and ungrammatical sentences that jar the ear.

If this novel can be said to have a theme, some reason for telling this story, it is perhaps the significance of historical discovery. It opens in the present day as the first party of archaists (archaeologists) arrives on the shores of Shallai seeking to discover how the empire met with its terrible fate. At this point, the Archaist leading the exploration party is also the first person narrator of the tale. His fascination with and understanding of the importance of history are palpable. He is seeking answers as a path to gaining greater understanding about the world he inhabits. In this sense he is also a teacher, responsible for imparting whatever knowledge he gains to those around him. Through this process, he believes people will come to understand their own place in the universe. These are all worthy sentiments, but they also imply that Kurzawa is going to present a lesson, to pass on not just the bare facts of an event, but also some attempt to explain why that event took place. Unfortunately, by the end of 'Gideon's Wall', whilst the method of Shallai's destruction is clear, the reasons behind it remain opaque.

From these introductory chapters, the scene changes, going back in time to a narrative of the events that led up to the great destruction. The great mystery of the means of destruction is in fact revealed about two thirds of the way through the novel, making the final portion of 'Gideon's Wall' totally predictable. Kurzawa seems to hint at a moral behind the fall of Shallai. At times it seems to be quite simply about the cycle of nature, or perhaps God, the need for a destruction in order to make way for new growth. At other times he implies it is more to do with the arrogance and humility of nations. The arrogance of Shallai in believing itself indestructible receives its just deserts through the instrument of the Bedu, a nation in decline. These ideas are barely voiced, never receiving proper attention, so at the end of the novel, the historical facts have been exposed, but the lessons they are meant to teach remain buried. It is unclear that the Archaist will be able to take any enhanced understanding of life back to his people.

Powerful descriptions lend a certain appeal to the story of Shallai's downfall, but ultimately 'Gideon's Wall' remains unsatisfying. It tells a not-so-pretty story and nothing more, which is a pity since the opening chapters seem to promise so much.