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Reading another of Saxton's Islandia sagas--this time the mythical kingdom's conflicts are set in the 13th century--is like leafing through an elegant legal brief: nice turns of explication, philosophic and legalistic explorations, a kind of wispy humor. . . but not much fleshly impact. (One wishes that narrator Bren, diplomat and soldier, would just once dribble his food or scream now and then.) Islandia is now in the throes of conflict, with the increasing presence of Catholic missionaries: quite a few Islandians have been drawn to the Catholic theology and ethics; others stick with Islandia's traditional, existential ""Om."" And, to the dismay of many, the Catholic majority in the League of nobles is forcing through a feudalist system, causing land seizures and outsize taxes, plotting a Catholic monarchy. King Alwin is virtually under house arrest; his Queen, loyal but unloved, is poisoned by the woman, Calwina, whom Alwin lusts for. But then Alwin secretly contacts widow Islata Dom, who enlists Bren for a royal rescue. And so begins the rounding up of anti-League allies; long, dangerous journeys; virtuoso diplomacy; battles; personality clashes; and love scenes as abstract as origami. Still, if bloodless, there are dazzling dialogues on the nuances of diplomacy, theology, politics, and military strategy. (On the martial mind: ""We need one strong idea and one enemy to fit it."") And, for its implicit critical analysis of Western mores and its glittering asides, this will be thoughtful, rewarding reading for the philosophically inclined.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin