Thanks go out to my friend Dannyboy whom I have known through forum debate for I think 15 years now. Danny also graciously hosted me on a trip to England where he and I tipped back a pint (or two) at the Oxford inns where the Inklings (Lewis, Tolkien, etc) would meet. Here are some pics from that affair. WIthout further ado here is his review:
“Spero” – Book II of the Birthpangs series by AR Horvath.
‘Spero’ (Hope) is one of those Latin words that you sort of know, even if you were lucky enough to attend a school which didn’t obstinately prioritise fluency in dead languages. It is incorporated in quite a few modern English words, most obviously ‘desperate’, or ‘de – sperate’, meaning literally ‘without hope’. Fortunately, although the times that AR Horvath is writing about may indeed be desperate, the quality of the writing itself is far from it.
Spero elaborates on the events described in ‘Fidelis’, but starts and ends in different places. This may sound like an odd way to tell a story (book two of a series traditionally picks up where book one finished, after all), but it proves to be a refreshing and clever way to – almost literally – weave a narrative, with a different thread of the future history that Horvath is constructing being plucked out of the tapestry of the whole and examined.
We follow the fortunes of two characters who we met in Fidelis, Tasha and King, from their first meeting just after a massive nuclear strike on the USA. Told initially from Tasha’s point of view, but thereafter mostly from King’s perspective we get a different look at the unfolding events in this post-apocalyptic landscape. At first the two friends are making their own way through the troubled country, giving us an insight into events not witnessed by the primary characters of Fidelis, but later we come to the first meeting of Tasha and King with Fides and Fermion, now seen and described through different eyes.
Here is where Horvath’s device of overlapping different characters’ narratives in successive books risks becoming repetitive as we are taken through events we have already read about, but the change in point of view and the individual concerns of the new characters (in the teenage King’s case, touchingly recognisable worries about girls are jarringly set against a back-drop of dystopian civil war) make the story fresh and interesting, even if we occasionally know what is coming next.
Some questions from Book One are answered (who is Fermion?), while others are left unresolved (who are the Shadowmen?). Puzzles still remain at the end of the book about the characters we have been following throughout – for instance, is Tasha, who slays multiple highwaymen with rather more skill than your average elderly lady, really all she seems? Tune in for Book Three to find out (I sincerely hope!).
Horvath’s villains are a nice mix of well-rounded characters who can be quite difficult to spot, and out-and-out rotters with nothing to recommend them whatsoever. This balance between the black-and-white good vs evil ideology of a traditional heroic adventure story (or any of George W Bush’s speeches) and a more thoughtful approach satisfies both emotionally and intellectually.
The diverging paths of the main characters preserve an unknown ending, which does not disappoint for a dangling cliff-hanger on the edge of a cataclysmic battle with the evil Pledge forces, with elements of a Tolkienesque epic mythos seen again in the closing paragraphs.
All in all, I found Spero to be an excellent book, which made me want to go back and read Fidelis again. The only question remains, what’s he going to call the next one?
We’ve had ‘Faith’ (Fidelis), and now ‘Hope’. If this were a trilogy, I would have to go for the Latin word for ‘Love’ (taking my cue from 1 Corinthians 13:13) – I’m thinking possibly ‘Amare’. However, since I have it on good authority that there are seven books planned, then I’m going to have to put my money on ‘Caritas’, the third of the seven Heavenly Virtues (the polar opposite of the famous Deadly Sins) after Faith and Hope – Charity.
Danny F, England.
[Editor: The third book is indeed titled Caritas! Good job, Danny!]