Hammerfall, by C. J. Cherryh

hammerfall-by-c-j-cherryhGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Morrow, William & Co
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: threestars
Book Review by Elizabeth Kelley Buzbee

Reader Rating Why not rate it! 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars


When Hammerfall came out this summer, I rushed to get my copy. There are only a couple of SF writers for whom I will shell out the extra bucks for a hardback edition and CJ Cherryh’s one of them.

If the reader wants a reasonably competent read about the interactions between a primitive people and godlike aliens who may or may not have created them, then pick up Hammerfall. If the reader wants to see nanotechology, juxtaposed with tribal war in the desert it’s all here in spades.

The plot is almost biblical in scope as we watch a young man leads his people to safety under the threat of a planet-wide disaster.

The action moves well. I found the image of an entire population in transit overwhelming. The running battle in and out of the moving caravan that occurs throughout the middle of the book is spirited.

The setting of the book is a desert planet and it is painted in blazing colors, as we witness the natives’ primitive attempts to deal with the rain of asteroids crashing all around them.

There is the constant threat of scavengers nibbling at the caravan’s stragglers to keep one’s attention and a wonderful sandstorm to threaten the entire cast. These aspects of Hammerfall are satisfactory in as far as they go.

In short, if the reader likes a novel exploring the low tech/high tech clash of cultures, then this is a world-class space opera. But for all its action and color, for all of its great writing, I came away from the book feeling that Hammerfall was a flawed work.

First there is a serious plot disruption I found troublesome. A major character is warned of personal disaster, but nothing develops. Worse, there is never an explanation and the subject just seems to have been dropped.

But the major flaw in Hammerfall is in the development of two major characters, the young prince Marak and his nemesis and reluctant ally, the god-queen Ila.

Cherryh can write madness as no one else can, so when the dust cover of Hammerfall spoke of Marak’s suffering from his madness, the reader anticipates another careful creation of a fragile personality in serious crisis. One expects unbearable internal tension to build up before the hero emerges.

But Marak seems destined to be the perfect hero. Young noble-born son of the desert, he moves though the book barely touched even by the betrayals in his own family. He fulfills his role as the Noah/Moses of his tribe with admirable verve.

And on the surface, the Ila seems the perfect villain and foil for Marak. Long-lived, perhaps eternal, she governs the small cities on her planet ruthlessly.

So what’s wrong with these two?

Nothing. It’s just that there seems to be little internal conflict in either of these characters. At no time does the reader ever doubt Makar’s sanity, any more than he doubts that Marak is capable of saving the day.

As far as Ila is concerned, while it is clear that she is selfish and controlling, I found her a pallid villain whose motives are so wrapped in obscurity throughout course of the book that I could never get a handle on Ila’s personality.

Perhaps if Cherryh had changed the narrator’s point of view from Marak’s to one of his two wives, I might have better picture of both Marak and the Ila. If I could have seen Marak, the hero, through the frightened eyes of his lesser wife, who really is battling insanity, then I might appreciate him and the book more.

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