No weapon that leaves the hand: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Heritage of Hastur

The Heritage of Hastur (1975) is a passionate novel of awakening love, sexuality, and magic. It’s set ten years after The Bloody Sun and two generations after the other Darkover books I’ve been discussing. It’s the story of two very different young men who are heirs to Domains on Darkover. Regis Hastur is fifteen, fully Darkovan, heir to Hastur, but he lacks laran, the magical gifts inherent in his genes. He hates the way he has to go through all the steps laid out for an heir, and he longs to leave his planet on a Terran spaceship. Lew Alton is ten years older. He’s half-Terran, or actually a quarter Terran and a quarter Aldaran, not that that helps as the Aldarans are hereditary enemies. He has lived all his life in the shadow of his father’s ambition for him—everything his father has done for years has been in the service of getting Lew acknowledged, accepted as heir. Lew has been forced along the same path that’s being laid out before Regis, but he’s had to fight every step of the way. Regis wants to escape, and Lew wants to be accepted. Neither of them gets what they want.

All the Darkover books stand alone very well. This would almost certainly be as a good place to start the series as any. It’s a powerful book, but very dark. All of it seems to happen at night, and with everyone either miserable or with their happiness overshadowed by knowledge of misery to come.

Isilel has a comment on the Forbidden Tower thread that is very relevant here:

When read in internal chronology, every multi-volume storyline is a tragedy, really, because every development runs into sand…. I used to read a lot of Bradley’s Darkover, haphazardly, but once it became clear to me how utterly futile anything achieved in an individual book turns out to be and that happy endings are basically lies, I abandoned it.

This is undeniable. Each book seems to have a positive ending, but nothing comes to anything. Technology does not change, attitudes do not change, the only thing that changes is that there are fewer and fewer people gifted with laran in each generation. This is especially noticeable here because we have the plot centered on Regis’s supposed lack of laran and the plot centered on Lew’s attempt to work with Sharra. Some things have changed—there are matrix workers outside the towers in The Bloody Sun, and nobody can work in a tower for more then three years now. But everything else goes on the same, or rather is reset to the status quo.

The book alternates between chapters of first person Lew and chapters of third person Regis. I don’t expect it’s the first book ever written to do that, but it’s certainly the first book I read that did that. I wasn’t put off by it, but I remember thinking “Are you allowed to do that?” The two stories interlock very well and feed into each other, so that even though there are two distinct character stories they are both part of the one big story.

There’s a theory of writing which I have only heard about by repute (but this seems to be a good statement of the system), in which you alternate scenes, in which things happen, and sequels, in which the characters reflect on the action. I find this quite horrifying as a way of writing, but I found myself thinking about it with regard to the Darkover books. There’s a way in which The Shattered Chain is all scene and Thendara House is all sequel, and again with The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower, in both cases the second book rests in the consequences of the actions in the first book. And The Bloody Sun is clearly sequel to the story of Cleindori. What we have here is an unusual case where Bradley had written the sequel about the consequences, and then wrote Heritage of Hastur to stand before it.

The original sequel was The Sword of Aldones, and then she rewrote it as Sharra’s Exile. I think Heritage of Hastur benefitted from knowing where it was going, and gains a real sense of tragedy from that. This is a tragedy. There isn’t any faked happy ending, this ending is clearly a patch-up on disaster, and the book is better for it. I’m not going to read Sharra’s Exile—or Sword of Aldones, not that I could. I’m not going to read it because it’s too depressing and I didn’t commit myself to a thorough or a sensible consideration of the whole series. But if you want to talk about it in comments here, do feel free.

Let’s talk about Lew first. Lew wants to belong, and he’s gone along with everything up to the point where they try to find him a wife. He then goes to Aldaran on a mission and gets caught up in a criminally irresponsible attempt to use the Sharra matrix. There are a whole pile of reasons why this is a terrible idea. First, Lew is the only one who is trained. Second, Sharra is an unmonitored matrix. Third, he’s using it outside a Tower. Fourth, Kadarin is very strange, probably non-human, and much older than he looks. Fifth, Thyra is certainly a quarter Chieri, a wild telepath and completely mad. Sixth, Rafe is twelve. Seventh and last, Sharra has been used as a weapon and wants to kill kill kill and destroy everything with fire. The circle they form in The Bloody Sun is bad enough, but this is madness. Never mind that a five year old child could see that this is a terrible idea, Lew’s horse should have been able to tell.

I like Lew, and I appreciate his personal problems. I think he was undoubtedly a fine technician in Arilinn, and he was definitely a good Guard officer, we see him being one in Regis’s point of view. He’s brave, he has a lot of skill, and he’s been pushed around too much by people with their own agendas, especially his father. But he should stick to following orders because he has absolutely no sense. Marjorie, his right arm, and the city of Caer Donn were a small price to pay for being that stupid. The book ends with his leaving Darkover—I think this is the only book that has an end like that. I remember him being no less idiotic in Sharra’s Exile, that’s part of why I’m not reading it. I like you Lew. But you need a keeper, in any sense of the word you choose to take that.

We’re always being told how dangerous the matrix weapons are. But this is one of the few books we we actually see one do anything. The Compact that limits their use—or the use of any ranged weapon—really is a good idea. I don’t think it would work as well as we see it, though. And the implication is that it is war alone that drives technology.

Regis’s story is about growing up, and though Regis is ten years younger than Lew he is in many ways more grown up. He’s repressed his laran and his sexuality, he rediscovers control of both of them. This is well done, and it was unusual to have a positively depicted gay (or bi) character in a SF novel in 1975. (It’s worth noting that this is the earliest-written of the books I’ve been re-reading.) The early books were adventure stories and either had child protagonists and no sex or very standard and chaste romances. I think this was the first one to have a gay character—and he doesn’t come to a tragic end. I think he sensibly has to count as bi because he does eventually marry (in later books) and have children but he always remains in a close relationship with Danilo and it seems quite clear that men are his preferred sexual partners.This is the story of a gay teen in a fantasy society coming out, growing up, and accepting what he is and his responsibilities to his planet. I’m impressed with it.

It does, however, leads me to the most problematic aspect of this book—Dyan Ardais. Dyan is Regent of Ardais for his mad father, Kyril  who is old but still alive. He has unquestioned power, and he abuses it. He’s also cadetmaster in ther Guards, a post we’re told he’s sought and can’t be denied for political reasons. Lew hates him, but isn’t under his control. Regis and Danilo are. He’s very nice to Regis, who is a social equal, but Danilo is the son of an old family fallen on hard times, and Dyan can safely abuse him. He tries to seduce Danilo, and when Danilo rejects him he uses his laran to persecute him until Danilo loses control and attacks him, whereupon he’s cast out of the cadets. Dyan is a sexual predator on young boys—Danilo is fourteen. That Danilo is attracted to Regis (fifteen) and has a relationship with him later makes absolutely no difference to Dyan’s repulsive behaviour, any more than it would if a woman teacher in her forties did this to a boy of fourteen, or a man to a girl. Dyan’ is in a position of authority and he abuses it.

Most books would unquestionably treat Dyan as a villain. And Dyan is a villain here, but he’s far from a one dimensional villain. He has a deep level of psychological realism—not only his terrible upbringing, and the same weight of expectation that causes Lew to trash Caer Donn and Regis to want to flee the planet. He’s an incredible snob, more so than anyone in any of the books he believes in Comyn privilege and power. But he’s not only complex, he’s sympathetic and attractive.. He has the virtues of his flaws, he’s brave and honourable in what he considers to be honour—which of course doesn’t include being respectful of the physical or psychological integrity of his social inferiors. He behaves well in the end, making amends to Danilo and adopting him as his heir. Danilo, Regis and Danilo’s father forgive him for the earlier telepathic rape I mentioned how unusual it was to see a positive gay teen coming out. How much more unusual to have an even semi-positive portrayal of a gay sexual predator. I don’t have any problems with seeing Dyan as realistic—I have problems with wanting to see him punished. Adopting Danilo seems to me like the end of Measure for Measure.

Family Tree Trivia

Lew is the son of Elaine Montray and Kennard Alton. He’s the grandson of Wade Montray with a random Aldaran woman and Valdir Alton and Elorie Ardais. So he’s the great grandson of Montray the idiot Legate and his presumed wife, two random Aldaran people, Esteban Alton and his Ridenow wife, and Rohana and Gabriel Ardais. There are real people whose families I don’t know so much about. Indeed, there are very few real people whose families I do know so much about and most of them are related to me.

Regis is the great-grandson of Lorill Hastur, Leonie’s brother.

Dyan is the son of Kyril Ardais, who we last saw pawing Jaelle in The Shattered Chain, and therefore grandson of Rohana and Gabriel. He’s thus Lew’s first cousin once removed.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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