Bewildering Stories

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Book Review:
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Burning Tower

by Jerry Wright

Burning Tower
Authors: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Publisher: Pocket Books
Paperback: 656 pages
Price: $7.99
This book has been sitting in my flight bag for several months. I have no idea why I was so apprehensive about reading it. Perhaps the title Burning Tower turned me off. I mean, really. The first book in this "Golden Road" series was called Burning City, about a city situated where Los Angeles is, only 14,000 years ago in Larry Niven's universe "When The Magic Goes Away". The book was good, although weird, and the primary character Whandall Placehold (later to be known as Whandall Feathersnake) was a thieving punk kid.

Anyway, the book was fun, and the god of the city, Fire God Yangin-Atep was forced into myth taking his many burnings of the city with him. So anyway, Burning City was about a burning city. And Burning Tower? That's the name of Whandall's daughter. And for some reason that bothered me. I have no idea why.

Whatever. I finally took the book out of the bag and started reading in on my trip down to Orange County, and I'm glad I did. It is a lot of fun, with sly digs and asides about today's popular culture, as well as pop culture references. As for example when Burning Tower mentions that Atlantean wizard Morth told her that he had to "believe in the magic of a young girl's smile", and other totally appropriate if anchronistic (from our view) comments relating to movies and music of our day.

After all, it IS about southern California, right? So all bets are off.

So, Lord Sandry is quite young but has risen to be chief of the firefighters of Tep's Town. Didn't used to need firefighters, but now that old Tep is myth, fires that He controlled are out of control (Tep wouldn't allow buildings to burn or even allow fires indoors, until he was good and ready to go crazy with fire). And as well, Sandry is in love with a (shudder) common merchant's daughter even if she is Whandall Feathersnake's daughter, and rich.

All of a sudden, a giant creature called a terror bird that was vicious and solitary started grouping up and attacking wagon trains, the source of trade and wealth for both Tep's Town and Whandall the trader. So Sandry with other lords and the gangish Lordkin together with a group from the traders (including Burning Tower and her brother) have to find out why the terror birds are attacking and what can be done to stop them.

The story is a great sojourn through a southwest that never was, with strange beasts and magics and peoples, and behind that adventure and love story remains a sad commentary that resources aren't endless. They can used up, or hoarded, or abused by the caring and the careless alike. The love story between Sandry and "Blazes" (Burning Tower's nickname) is well done and not cloying, and adds just the right taste of a little spice.

You need not have read Burning City (though that isn't a bad idea) to enjoy Burning Tower and it is time well spent and a book worth reading. And now I'm looking forward to Niven and Pournelle finishing Inferno II their sequel to their fine romp through Dante's Inferno. Said book is almost finished!

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Wright and Bewildering Stories

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