At the sun-drenched dawn of human history, in the great plain between the two great rivers, are the cities of men. And each city is ruled by its god.But the god of the city of Gibil is lazy and has let the men of his city develop the habit of thinking for themselves. Now the men of Gibil have begun to devise arithmetic, and commerce, and are sending expeditions to trade with other lands.They're starting to think that perhaps men needn't always be subject to the whims of gods. This has the other god worried.And well they might be...because human cleverness, once awakened, isn't likely to be easily squelched At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
When the gods declare war against the city of Gibil, Sharur the merchant's son takes upon himself the task of discovering the reason for their anger. Bolstered by his belief in the ability of mortals to act without the direct intervention of divine powers, Sharur travels beyond the confines of the twin rivers that demarcate his homeland, disseminating his strange ideas of free will and independent thought. The advent of the Bronze Age and its impact on human civilization forms the backdrop of Turtledove's (How Few Remain, LJ 8/97) latest excursion into the realms of alternate history. The author's cadenced prose imparts an epic feel to this tale of humanity's attempt to forge its own destiny. A good selection for most libraries.
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April 14, 1999
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Excerpt from Between the Rivers by Harry Turtledove
Sharur was walking back toward his family's shop and home on the Street of Smiths when a fever demon that had been basking on a broken mud brick soaking up heat sprang at him, its batlike wings glistening in the sun. He leaped back so it could not breathe sickness into his mouth and pulled out an amulet marked with the eyes of Engibil, patron god of the city of Gibil.
"Begone, foul thing!" he exclaimed, and made the left-hand gesture every child in the land of Kudurru learned by the age of three--every child, at any rate, that lived to the age of three. He thrust out the amulet as if it were a spear. "Greater powers than you protect me."
Screeching in dismay, the nasty little demon fled. Sharur strode on, his back straight now with pride. He returned the amulet to its proper loop on his belt. The belt, which also bore a couple of other amulets, a bronze dagger, and a stylus, held up a knee-length linen kilt that was all he wore between stout leather sandals and a straw hat shaped like a short, broad cone. Slaves--and some freemen of a class poorer than Sharur's--dispensed with shoes and sometimes with kilt as well. No one went without a hat, not in the land between the Yarmuk and the Diyala.
The streets of Gibil were narrow and winding. Sharur's sandals scuffed up dust and squelched in muck. A farmer coming at him leading a donkey with baskets of beans tied to its back made him squeeze up against the front wall of one of the two-story mud-brick homes lining both sides of the street: a prosperous home, because that front wall was whitewashed. The shiny white coating did not make the sun-baked mud any less rough on the bare skin of his back. Farmer and donkey plodded on, equally oblivious to having annoyed him.
His grandfather's ghost spoke in his ear: "You should follow that fellow and break a board on his head for the bother he caused you."
"It's all right, father to my father. He's on the way to the market square; he had to get by me," Sharur answered resignedly. His grandfather had been quarrelsome while he was alive, and was even more bad-tempered now that no one could break a board over his head.
"If only that fellow had known me in the flesh, I'd have hit him myself," the ghost grumbled. "He deserved it."
"It's all right, father to my father," Sharur repeated, and kept walking.
His grandfather's ghost sniffed. "All right, he says. It's not all right, not even close. Young people these days are soft--soft, I tell you."
"Yes, father to my father," Sharur said. The ghost, he knew, would keep on haranguing him and trying to meddle in his affairs as long as he lived. He consoled himself by remembering that it would have no power over his children, whenever they might be born, for they would not have known his grandfather alive. And when I'm a ghost myself, he thought, I hope I don't plague the people who recall me.
He turned a last corner and stepped onto the Street of Smiths. It was probably the noisiest street in all Gibil, but he found the racket familiar, even restful, having lived with it all his life. Smiths banged and tapped and hammered and rasped and filed. Fires crackled. Molten metal hissed as it was poured into molds of wet sand.
Behind the racket, power hovered. Smithery was a new thing in the land of Kudurru, and thus in the whole world, however big the world might be. In the days of Sharur's grandfather's grandfather, no one had known how to free copper and tin from their ores, much less how to mix them to make a metal stronger than either. These days, smiths stood on an equal footing with carpenters and bakers and potters and those who followed the other old, established trades.
But smiths were different. The other trades all had their old, established tutelary gods, from Shruppinak, who helped carpenters pound pegs straight, to Lisin, who got spots out of laundry. Smithery, though, smithery was too new for its great power to have coalesced into deities or even demons. Maybe it would, in time. Maybe, too, the smiths would keep the power in their own merely human hands.