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.