Friday, November 11, 2022

Where the Evil Dwells by Clifford D. Simak

Plodding dungeons and dragons quest
I’m a big fan of author Clifford D. Simak and am close to finishing off his complete works. Among his career catalog of superb science fiction, however, he did write a few novels in a genre that isn’t really my cup of tea: fantasy of the Dungeons and Dragons variety. Among these books are Enchanted Pilgrimage, The Fellowship of the Talisman, and one of his last few novels, Where the Evil Dwells, published in 1982. As much as I love Simak’s writing, I don’t think this genre was really his strong suit, and Where the Evil Dwells does little to elevate my appreciation for sword and sorcery fiction.

The story takes place during the time of the Roman Empire. In between the Romans to the South and the Germanic barbarians of the north lies a no-man’s zone called the Empty Land. Here dwells the Evil, a mystical hoard of evil creatures right out of the D&D Monster Manual. Charles Harcourt is a young nobleman in Northern France. His father’s lands lie adjacent to the boundary of the Empty Land. One day a beloved uncle shows up injured, having just returned from an adventure in the Empty Land. He tells Charles of a magical prism in which the soul of a saint is imprisoned. This holy relic rests deep within the Empty Land, and the uncle was not able to wrest it from the clutches of the Evil. Charles resolves to embark on a quest to recover the prism, in hopes that its holy powers will be useful in countering the Evil. Volunteering to accompany him on this quest are an abbot with a taste for battle, a neighbor girl with a secret past, and the Knurly Man, an inhuman humanoid of mysterious origin.

Like so many quest novels, particularly in this fantasy genre, the bulk of the book is occupied with the getting there. For the reader, this is a slow and tedious journey as the party trudges through one more forest, one more swamp, one more campsite. Reading this book really does make one feel like you are a spectator at a session of Dungeons & Dragons in which you are in no way invested. Occasionally the trekkers encounter monsters or meet other humans (typical non-player characters). Simak draws most of his monsters from mythology and folklore—ogres, trolls, dragons, unicorns. Occasionally he’ll serve up something a little more creative. Action is sparse in the plot, and nobody really learns anything along the way. Nothing much of import happens until the last twenty pages of the book, which is hastily wrapped up in a less than satisfying ending.

Fans of Simak’s science fiction will be disappointed with this work. I can’t imagine even those who habitually enjoy sword and sorcery fiction would find this novel exciting. One can’t blame Simak for wanting to branch out, but he should have left this genre to Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Piers Anthony. Simak doesn’t bring anything new to fantasy literature with this book. The biggest fault with Where the Evil Dwells is that it’s just boring. It’s not offensively bad like The Fellowship of the Talisman; just passively bad. There is nothing to really hate about it but not much to love either.
If you liked this review, please follow the link below to Amazon and leave me a “helpful” vote. Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment