Hiero's Journey - a review

edited January 2019 in Book Reviews

This is a fairly old review from Goodreads which I am copying here. The immediate motive was the loose crossover of ideas from Mortal Engines - specifically, a many-centuries post-apocalypse exploration of a device which contributed to the apocalypse, and the various reactions of people to that. Apart from that feature, the books are very different. Both describe what seem to me to be very creative, credible and intelligent worlds. In terms of the personal stories overlaid on the constructed worlds, Hiero's Journey is adult where Mortal Engines is YA, so purely on those grounds it appeals to me more. Both are, I think, in our backlog of possible books to read as a group, and I would be very happy to reread either of them.

Here was what I wrote back at the end of 2015... though my first read of the book was in my late teens, which were very much longer ago than that year...

Hiero's Journey, by Sterling Lanier, is set in a remote future. It is post-apocalyptic in tone, but the disaster - The Death - is so far in the past as to have an almost mythic quality.

Humanity has, for a great many years, struggled to survive in isolated pockets, in what historically were marginal and insignificant places. Many - but not all - former prejudices concerning race and lineage have been discarded, and the scattered survivors are mostly descended from those who were mixed-race outcasts in today's world.

The Death has also spawned a wide variety of mutations, most of which are greatly increased in size compared to the progenitors we know. A few of these have traits which favour domestication, and others have attained sufficient intelligence that friendly relations can be established. But the great majority are hostile, vicious, and inimical to human life. The book moves between confrontations with these hostile life forms, and increasingly those few humans who have affiliated themselves with the offspring of The Death.

The human enclaves have cultivated a strong moral code, based on a fairly formal branch of Christianity but adapted syncretically as the need has arisen over the centuries. So Hiero and his people combine a religious sensibility with a burgeoning scientific spirit of enquiry, at the same time as practicing a form of magic. They recognise these as three complementary approaches to the world around them, and try to integrate them all into a single coherent lifestyle. For me, this was, and remains, one of the strongest and most compelling features of Hiero's Journey.

Of course the book describes a journey, from the wilderness of Canada around - and across - the Great Lakes into the former United States, in search of a particular piece of technology. Along the way, Hiero makes new friends and allies, but also discovers that enemies they thought of as purely local are actually organised on a much wider scale. How he manages these interactions, not just as an individual but as a representative of his people and his culture, forms the core of the book.

This is another novel which has held my interest for years, and I am sure it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

There is a sequel (The Unforsaken Hiero) which is good, and raises a number of interesting ideas, but to my mind at least, is not as gripping and innovative as Hiero's Journey. Apparently there was supposed to be a concluding volume to make a trilogy, but it never got written - see comments under https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1922602.The_Unforsaken_Hiero.


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    Fascinating. And yes, this is one of the higher-voted books on the to-read list. It seems to be available in kindle/kobo format, or in print as a used book. So we could do it as a club read. Do you want to lead a book this year?

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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > Fascinating. And yes, this is one of the higher-voted books on the to-read list.... Do you want to lead a book this year?

    Sure, happy to, just pick a month :)
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