The Blue Star

Fletcher Pratt is best know for his light-hearted collaborations with L. Sprage deCamp (The Incomplete Enchanter series is the best known). His two solo novels are different kettle of fish. Like Mask of Troy, I think there’s a lot to learn from them, but they’re a good read aside from that.

The Blue Star came out in the early 1950s, and has a rather odd opening: Three guys sitting around speculating how alternative histories might develop. One suggests a world with low technology (failure to discover gunpowder being the turning point) where magic has developed to replace it. That night, all three men dream of such a world …
This strikes me as a gratuitous framing sequence (and has nothing to do with the rest of the book); it may reflect that the setting——alt. 1700s Europe——was a novel one back then (steampunk has made the idea more common, I think). It’s also implausible: From what we see of magic, it looks far too weak and rare to have developed as a science substitute (in contrast to say, Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy novels). The framing doesn’t hurt the book, though.
The story: Rodvard, a member of a revolutionary group seduces Lalette, a witch (all witches are female, and witchraft is illegal). As her lover, he receives the Blue Star, a talisman that enables him to read thoughts as long as he stays true to Lalette. It’s not a happy relationship: Lalette knows she’s being used but doubts a witch can ever find love; Rodvard is guilty about using her but feels it’s his duty to the cause. And so, despite his doubts, he goes to court to begin spying with the Blue Star.
It’s a good read, despite being very downbeat: Lalette and Rodvard are miserable and worried, and everyone around them is self-serving; when Rodvard suggests saving a good-hearted nobleman heading for prison, his superiors reply that the man is more useful as a martyr (and good noblemen are a liability anyway, as they encourage people to accept the current system).
What makes it worth study is how well Pratt handles the political and theological world into which Rodvard plunges. There’s no overt explanation or exposition; we have to piece everything together from the political debates Rodvard overhears or the occasional lectures about What God Want. When Rodvard demurs about seducing Lalette, for instance, his superior reminds him that God’s will is for us to be joyful——and prioritizing his joy over that of everyone who will gain from the revolution is therefore anti-God (whether this is manipulative or a genuine tenet of faith is not clear).
It helps, of course, that the setting is reasonably close to our world, so we can fill in a lot of the gaps. But it’s a great display of how to get away with minimal exposition.
The Blue Star. A good book for writers and readers.

2 Comments

Filed under Reading, Writing

2 responses to “The Blue Star

  1. Pingback: Well of the Unicorn: Post the First « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.