"[T]he action moves quickly, and there are enough surprises to keep readers hooked to the end."– Kirkus Reviews
Fritsch’s (Promised Valley Peace, 2013, etc.) historical legal drama reveals the seamy underbelly of a small Illinois farming community.
Jonah Neumeyer, a young gay lawyer living in Chicago in 1977, was 6 years old in 1955 when he witnessed a traumatic house fire in Revere, Illinois, that apparently killed two elderly men. He’s remembered a comment from one of the onlookers ever since, as the charred bodies were brought out by the firemen: “Those two old queers got what they deserved.” Now Jonah has returned to his hometown to find out if that fire was set intentionally. The first step is to speak with the recently widowed Elizabeth Daleiden, who lived in the neighboring house—and who inherited the men’s farm after their deaths. Jonah believes that Elizabeth is hiding something, but he doesn’t anticipate that their conversation will get back to Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Olivia Daleiden, a nasty, vengeful woman who accuses her of murdering not only the two men, but also Elizabeth’s father in 1950. Somewhat improbably, the Concord County state’s attorney, Tanner Howland, smells the potential for a big-trial victory that will propel his political ambitions; he successfully obtains indictments, and the stage is set for Elizabeth’s takedown. As the unorthodox trial proceeds—with witnesses allowed to expound endlessly without objection—it reveals a veritable Peyton Place of back stories, in which everyone in Revere seems to have connections with everyone else. Fritsch saddles himself with an ambitious task by jumping into the well-trod territory of courtroom dramas. However, the trial is only a vehicle for his examination of small-town prejudices, especially regarding gays and lesbians. He kindly provides a list of characters upfront so readers can keep track of them all, and some of the walk-on players are engaging. That said, most of the real character development is limited to Jonah and Elizabeth; the rest of the players are mostly just divided into good guys or bad. Still, the action moves quickly, and there are enough surprises to keep readers hooked to the end.
Big-city life has nothing on small-town shenanigans in this often enjoyable read with a serious message.
In this fourth and final novel in Fritsch’s (Promised Valley Conspiracy, 2012, etc.) series, a sweeping new kind of warfare threatens an ancient valley and its peoples.
The valley’s rich farmland has for generations been a zone of contention between the farmers of the valley and the hunters of the less-inviting surrounding hills. Each side draws on a long tradition of beliefs assuring them that the gods intended the valley for their people and no others. Through three novels full of tension, betrayal and catastrophic warfare, the farmers and hunters have tried exchanging high-ranking hostages with each other in hopes of ensuring good behavior on both sides. One such move sends handsome, heroic Blue Sky to live among the hill people and eventually fall in love with one of them, a man named Wandering Star. The novel convincingly depicts a society in which homosexual relationships are conducted openly with no lessening of public esteem, and Fritsch handles the theme with a no-fuss skill reminiscent of Mary Renault’s. Another narrative thread follows the sarcastic agnosticism of the younger Promised Valley generation, which may be a satisfying innovation for 21st-century readers. Blue Sky, Wandering Star, and their various allies and enemies also contend with the introduction of horses as beasts of war in the valley’s latest conflagration. Fritsch tells a very detailed, very human story, although the opening 10 pages, a stultifying, bullet-point plot summary of the previous books in the series, may alienate new readers. Some of the book’s younger characters admirably seek to forge a real, lasting peace in their lifetimes, and the interminable threat of war allows Fritsch to make the conflict an allegory for every human conflict to come. There’s a sad moment of irony when a character late in the book hopes that their peoples will “never go to war again.”
A wise, bittersweet conclusion to a sprawling tale of prehistoric war and peace.
The multipart saga set in a lush prehistoric valley continues.
The third volume in Fritsch’s Promised Valley series (Promised Valley War, 2012) explores the ongoing conflict between the valley people, who are prosperous farmers occupying all the richest Promised Valley lands, and the hill people, who inhabit the sparser uplands and live bitterly, believing that their gods promised the valley and its comforts to them. Since the valley people have a similar belief about themselves, a state of dangerous friction exists between the two groups. Savage warfare and desperate diplomacy marked the well-orchestrated events of the first two books, and tensions continue to boil to the surface in this volume. Blue Sky, a stalwart valley person (and one of the most memorable characters of the entire series) says at one point, “Fighting in a war is the most disgusting thing a person can do. People in their right mind can’t do it.” Nevertheless, plenty of such fighting threatens the fragile peace in this latest volume, in which the enemies trade numerous hostages in an effort by both sides to stop the cycle of distrust and bloodshed. And although there’s war, there’s also tolerance: As with the previous two books, the author presents us with a prehistoric society that places no stigma on being gay—key male characters have not only wives or intended wives but male lovers as well. The author attempts to make the various plotlines accessible to new readers, but the books lose some dramatic heft if not read in order. Still, the narrative impact is vividly realized in any case: These books continue to be an intelligent and involving look at the personal sacrifices of making war and keeping peace.
Another well-done excursion into Jean Auel territory.
War erupts in a peaceful prehistoric valley.
Tensions were already brewing in Fritsch's Promised Valley Rebellion (2010), in which a group of young people living in the relatively benign and loosely organized prehistoric community of Promised Valley rebelled against their king and his council in reaction to a seemingly arbitrary, tyrannical ruling the king had made. That rebellion revolved around the hidden past of Rose Leaf, the beautiful young daughter of war-hero farmer Green Field, and it led to war with the hill people whose marauding ways are a constant threat to the inhabitants of Promised Valley. In Fritsch's latest novel (which is given depth by a reading of the first book but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone book), despite the best efforts of that same group of young people, war between the valley people and the hill people has erupted again. The author’s well-rendered descriptions of the creeping onslaught of war and winter give the reader a visceral feel for the endangered paradise that can occur despite the best intentions of the best people, and readers will be surprised by the twists he gives his tale. Alongside the careful plotting and natural-sounding dialogue, there's a refreshing amount of deeper resonances in the Promised Valley series, a steady undercurrent of commentary of the present day. The treatment of the young hero Blue Sky's attraction to other men, for instance, is straightforward but nonconfrontational, and characters at several points grapple with their society's primitive theology. “Could gods who were good-hearted … allow humans to go to war with one another?” the narrative at one point asks. “[I]f they, like humans, had no choice in the matter, why did humans call them gods?” The novel will leave readers eager to find out what happens next in Promised Valley. Luckily, Fritsch has plans to add two more volumes to the series.
A captivating novel that will transport readers back to prehistory times—while reminding them of their own.
Fritsch’s debut novel is a Paleolithic adventure in the manner of Jean Auel.
The story is very likely as old as human civilization: a younger generation comes of age, feels frustrated by its elders and rebels, bringing conflict, debate and even violence. The author gives readers little in the way of precise historical details about Promised Valley and its people: there are farmers, city dwellers and a court ruled by a royal family and run by bureaucratic tellers, but the events could be taking place almost anywhere in the world, in virtually any of the first few million years that followed the opening of the Pleistocene. This narrative imprecision is part of the point: when Tall Oak, the king, forbids his heir Morning Sun to marry the daughter of a farmer—and when this decision brings division and violence to his kingdom—the story encourages the reader to ponder the universal elements of the tale (the character names encourage the same thing, although after 100 pages of Spring Rain, Green Field and Noon Breeze, readers may want a quick-reference character list, which the book sadly lacks). In other hands, this could result in some quite dreary reading, but Fritsch again and again saves his parable by granting his characters an easy, unforced humanity that is instantly inviting. His people may have generic names, but they sound like individuals, and that makes all the difference. At one point, Blue Sky talks about how lucky two of his friends are not to be royalty: “Anybody who isn’t the prince should be glad he isn’t,” he says. “Someday Morning Sun will have to order people killed. Valley Defender and Solemn Promise won’t. We won’t.” Moments like that are plentiful, and they make the story memorable.
A strange, primitive world that feels winningly real.