Book Review: Pavane by Keith Roberts

PavanePavane by Keith Roberts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club.

Who’s this Keith Roberts guy? I wondered. I had never heard of him.

But lots of people I had heard of had, because they all did blurbs for this edition of this book: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Ian R. MacLeod, S.M. Stirling, Christopher Priest, George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois. Neil Gaiman is quoted as saying that he read of the stories in Pavane as a child, and it “scarred him.” Well, that’s quite the list of recommendations! I thought. And it was on my SF Masterworks list that I have resolved to read at a rate of one a month until they’re finished. So I read it.

WOW. Just – wow!

I understand this is one of the seminal works of alternate history. The premise: the Catholic-prompted assassination attempt against Elizabeth I succeeded. The Spanish Armada was victorious. The world became Catholic. And technology was repeatedly held back and held back. Roberts traces the implications of this alternate history by relating it through multiple viewpoint characters in different stories, all of which are interconnected.

It’s fascinating and involving! In this case, however, it’s the writing itself that is, in my opinion, the most beautiful aspect of this book. His description, the techniques he uses for deciding which part of the story to tell next, the rousing successes, the heartbreaking tragedies; these are rendered with the loving care of a masterwork painting.

I don’t know why more people outside of the field don’t know about his work. Maybe you have to be a bit of a connoisseur to be able to distinguish the subtleties inherent in this work of high art. But it’s just an all-around amazing read too. If you’re a fan of alternate history, historical fantasy, or just an all-around great tale, I highly recommend it.

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