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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Legend of Broken - Caleb Carr This book is a pretty good fantasy novel populated with characters typically found in fantasy-lit: melancholic warriors, small forest people, cave-dwelling mystics, an occasional enchanted animal or bird. It's a shame that the author decided to weigh it down with make believe documentation from "one of our major universities" where the "Broken Manuscript" (i.e. this book) was found. BOGUS! I'm convinced there is no manuscript. I guess there are no rules for fantasy, so pretending it's all based on a found manuscript is part of the fantasy.

This is a big story that requires a big book (737 pages). Incredibly 77 pages are dedicated to meticulous notes that elaborate, explain and expand on terms and expressions contained in the main text. Many of these notes refer to Gibbon's (Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) manuscript which again I am convinced is a completely fictitious source. But the contents of the notes themselves are mostly factual as best I can tell. This conflation of fact and fiction is disorienting to a skeptical reader such as me. I know I would be a happier person if I could simply get lost in the fantasy and believe everything in this book.

As a whole, I don't believe this book contains sufficient historical material to qualify it as "historical fiction." However, there is much historical material referenced in the book. One character in the books recounts that he knew and traveled with Saint Boniface (c. 7th century A.D.). There's also reference to the Christian religion coming out of Rome. But it is interesting to note that the author has selected a time (heart of the dark ages) and place (central Germany) about which few historical records have survived. What has come from that time and era are tales of magic and fairy tales; perfect material upon which the base this book.

The author takes time to poke fun at writers of written history. The following quotation is from a character in the book who is explaining why oral history is so much more accurate than written history:
“What else should a true historian do, my lord? Were history to be recorded in books, why ... How should we know who put it there? Or where it originated, and what part is fact, what legend, and what mere myth? Only spoken knowledge, handed down through the generation from wise man to pupil, over and over, can offer us such integrity--should any of our number speak lies, his fellows will likely catch him at it, whereas the lies of a man who writes books will long outlive him, with no one left to tell of his deceptions!”
Ah, so true, Calab Carr being the prime example!

There are plenty of moral, political and economic lessons contained in the book that are thinly veiled warnings to our modern times. One example is social unrest caused by rich people buying food from distant lands at cheap prices instead of locally grown food. Another example is a banished wizard who ends up using his knowledge of science to develop weapons of war to defeat those who banished him. In general religion is made to look foolish, and those respectful of science and hard work prevail.