Aug 20, 2009: I first discovered Chevenga’s story, years ago, when it appeared as two paperback novels (rather obviously a single story hacked in half for format reasons). I was utterly delighted to rediscover it recently in its new, revised and expanded, online format. The original two novels, Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul, are being reunited into a cohesive narrative. This encourages me, because I think the Internet is reminding us that a story is a living, growing thing. Paper books don’t change, and I love them for that; they will always hold a place in my heart. But I also love watching a story grow and evolve with a writer’s burgeoning skill, and this is a splendid example of that. It’s easier to do, now, with the web so accessible—and I hope that more authors will respond by putting their older books online like this.
The Philosopher in Arms has a great and terrible beauty. It’s a story about a hero who knows from a young age that he will die in his prime, and how that shapes his whole life. There is, indeed, a lot of philosophy in this novel, more shown than told. I’ve been impressed with the demonstration of civics, ethics, parenting skills, and personal responsibility as played out in this tale. Despite his privileged birth, Chevenga actually leads a hard life, beset by many challenges including his father’s assassination in the opening sequence, his training as a warrior, and his torment at the hands of enemies later on. (Readers with a traumatic past may prefer to skip this story for safety reasons.) But it never turns him into a hard person. He has a spine of steel and a heart of solid chocolate.
The worldbuilding is particularly brilliant; the Fifth Millennium is a shared setting, although Chevenga spends most of his time in nations designed by Karen Wehrstein. The story reads like fantasy; technology is mostly archaic, and there are hints of magic in places. But the background is actually science fiction: the far-future attempt of a world to rebuild itself after a devastating apocalypse. There are also lovely tidbits of invented languages.
Most highly recommended. Also, if you read this, don’t miss the related novels asa kraiya by the same author and Eclipse Court by Shirley Meier.