The Golden Torc by Julian May
Hey there! Do not read this review unless you’ve read The Many Colored Land. As this is book two of The Saga of Pliocene Exile, it’s impossible to write a review that doesn’t spoil The Many Colored Land. And I really, really liked The Many Colored Land and suggest you read it.
Okay, let’s go.
As I’ve already established, The Golden Torc is the second book in The Saga of Pliocene Exile series. You might assume that means it picks up where the last book lets off.
It actually picks up, chronologically, about half-way through The Many Colored Land. Remember Aiken and Raimo and Elizabeth and Stein and Sukey? Now we get to learn what they were up to while Madame Guderian coached Felice et al through their cockamamie scheme. We follow this crew up until the timeline catches up to the end of book one, at which point we go back to hopping between the two groups.
This is where The Golden Torc starts to feel a little different than The Many Colored Land. We have some dozen or more primary characters, and at least double that number of secondary—yet still incredibly important—characters that we need to keep tabs on. To accomplish this feat, Julian May ups the speed while pushing a lot of occurrences off screen.
It’s not a terrible way to handle it. The fact that characters continue to live their lives even when we’re not watching them helps add a sense of authenticity to the story and, well, with this epic of a story I can’t say the ramping speed of the narrative didn’t match my own intensity. My favorite types of books, though, are those I read for the sheer enjoyment of reading (as opposed to getting to the conclusion). The Many Colored Land fit that description, but I’m not sure I can say the same about The Golden Torc. Which isn’t to say it’s bad by any stretch, it’s just different.
I'd also say that The Golden Torc feels much less sci-fi than it's predecessor. Despite some futuristic technology, the millieu is prehistoric and filled with, essentially, fairies. It's going to hard to give that a hard sci-fi edge.
One concern I have that is continued from The Many Colored Land is her characterization—especially of (human) men. Richard’s sudden redemption in The Many Colored Land felt cheap. I appreciate that just because people are monsters in some aspects of their lives, it doesn’t preclude them from being loving elsewhere. But seriously, Richard was just plain nasty. It wasn’t days before he met his savior-love that he was hoping the Tanu had baseball-bat sized peckers and that they’d use them against a very unwilling Felice.
This tradition continues into The Golden Torc, though perhaps to a lesser degree. I don’t love it.
Amusingly, though, I find May’s depiction of Tanu men (and women) to be exceptional. Perhaps it’s because, as exotics, she doesn’t feel confined to trying to get them ‘right’ or finding a character arc for them. They get to just exist—and I think that puts their characterization as the best in the book.
I’d also like to say that Sugoll makes an appearance in this book, and he alone is worth the price of admission.
The Golden Torc is available:
Cover art by Michael Whelan: