There is no justice in a story as ethereal and harshly beautiful as
Hart's Hope being the most overlooked novel in an important
author's body of work. Orson Scott Card has crafted some magnificent
tales over the years, including the Ender's Game cycle and
the books of Alvin Maker. But it is only in Hart's Hope
that Card most successfully dips into the mythical traditions of the
ancients that are the predecessors of the modern fantasy genre.
Corrupt King Nasilee rules over Burland with ruthlessly abusive power.
In a land where the old gods -- the Hart, the Sweet Sisters -- are honored
equally beside the newcome, plainly-named "God," a dream comes to the
king's greatest general. The vision shows Zymas that he must abandon
Nasilee's charge and join the man who will be a just king. A Godsman bears
a message to Palicrovol, Count of Traffing, that he is the king-elect
by all the god's wills. So it is that the right hand of the king joins
with a noble upstart to bring down the monarch of Burland.
To depose a king takes time, and as a rebel-in-exile in a land across
the sea, Palicrovol happens into the garden of Enziquelvinisensee Evelvenin,
the eldest child of a king, the Flower Princess. She is yet a girl, but
Palicrovol sees in her the perfect beauty of a woman who will never tell
a lie in all her life. He tells the Flower Princess that he will marry
her, if he is king of Burland, when she is twenty. She agrees, and the
betrothal is promised.
To take the throne, Palicrovol must kill the king. When finally
Palicrovol takes the capitol of Inwit, built on the ancient city of
Hart's Hope, he slays the king and publicly rapes and impregnates Nasilee's daughter
so that there will be no question of his right to rule. Counseled by
Zymas and the wizard Sleeve to slay the princess Asineth after the
consummation, Palicrovol refuses, agreeing at least to send her away
with Sleeve to guard and guard over her.
The child Asineth births is an abomination, a ten-month babe whose
lifeblood portends bad magics to come. But that is all women's lore,
and Sleeve is too late in the discovering; Asineth is already far down
the path towards bitter vengeance. As Palicrovol at last welcomes the
Flower Princess to Inwit, the wedding is interrupted by Nasilee's daughter.
Asineth's strength is great enough to bind the gods, and the new king and
his companions have little hope against her. She takes the body of the
Flower Princess for her own, renaming herself "Beauty" and giving Palicrovol's
betrothed the body of a hag. She transforms Zymas from a strong and mighty
soldier to a withered weakling; the tall, albino wizard Sleeve becomes a black
dwarf, Queen Beauty's fool.
Beauty banishes Palicrovol from Inwit, and there begins three centuries
of pain and discomfort for the scorned king, three hundred years of
bondage for Beauty's three unwilling companions. After decades of
fruitless attempts to take back Inwit, Palicrovol follows a vision of
the Hart to father a seventh son and tenth child on a farmer's wife.
That boy, raised in love by a man not his father, will be weaned on
the lore of the Sweet Sisters and the Hart, be given to priests to
learn the way of God, and find his poem as Beauty's consort, the Little
King. Orem will be his father's salvation and his child's damnation in
a tug-of-war between a vengeful queen and bound but determined gods.
Hart's Hope owes much the Homeric tradition of heroic
odyssey. Gods appear in animal and human guise, manipulating mere
mortals to guide the turning of the world. Fallible tools that they
are, Orem, Palicrovol and Asineth are prey to the human weaknesses that
make them unwilling co-authors of the very destinies they seek to escape.
In the ancient city of Hart's Hope, justice is cruel but mercy is crueler.
This novel, as rich in allegory as a Greek myth, deserves to stand with
the best of the rest of Orson Scott Card's fiction.