Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shardik by Richard Adams

"Ah, Lord Shardik," he prayed silently, "the empire was pride and folly. I am sorry for my blindness, and sorry, too, for all that you suffered at my hands. Yet for others' sake, not mine, I entreat you not to leave us forever without the truth that you came to reveal. Not for our deserving, but of your own grace and pity for Man's helplessness."  

Richard Adams has a knack for creating immersive fantasy worlds. He draws you in with created languages, detailed maps, and elaborate traditions. Watership Down, his first novel, is an excellent example of this cultivated veracity. The story centers around a group of rabbits, with their own culture, language, and mythology. These details help to root the reader within Adams' fantasy world.

Two years after Adams published Watership Down, he published Shardik, his follow-up to the international bestseller. He relied on many of the same elements that made Watership Down work so well: a fantasy world rooted in a real-world epoch (in this case, early Medieval), different groups of people with detailed mythologies and traditions, and animals.

While the book is titled after Shardik, an enormous bear, the main character is a man, a hunter from a small, island village. While out hunting, Kelderek comes across a bear larger than any he has ever seen, prompting him to report back to the head of the Ortelgans that he has seen their bear god Shardik in the flesh. This sets off a series of events, culminating with the Ortelgans, emboldened by the power of Shardik, making their way into the mainland, and overthrowing cities and villages. Kelderek, thought of as a simpleton prior to his encounter with Shardik, see his standing rise among his fellow Ortelgans. Before too long, things begin to unravel for Kelderek and the Ortelgans.

Perhaps the main theme of Shardik is the creation and power of myths and religious beliefs. The myth of Shardik evolves and adapts throughout the story. The myth of Shardik at the close of the novel is quite different from Ortelgan beliefs at the novel's opening. But the cult of Shardik remains.

This is the third novel by Richard Adams that I have read. While I enjoyed it much more than The Girl in a Swing, it did not come close to rivaling Watership Down. Shardik opened well and kept my attention for the first 400 pages, but it started to drag around two-thirds of the way through and did not really pick back up until the last 50 pages. Unlike Kelderek, many of the supporting characters lacked definition and because of this were rather easy to confuse. I did not dislike Shardik, but would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who had not yet read other works by Adams.

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