Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: 'Yurth Burden' by Andre Norton

1 / 5 Stars

‘Yurth Burden’ is a DAW original (No. 304), and was published in September, 1978. The cover artwork, and the interior b & w illustrations, are by Jack Gaughan.

The story is set in the earth-like planet Zacar, which is inhabited by two human races: the telepathic Yurth, and the non-telepathic Raski. There is enmity between both races, which is manifested in willful segregation. At times, open violence has broken out between the Yurth and the Raski; the latter hate and fear the Yurth for their telepathic abilities, while the Yurth regard the Raski as little more than barbarians.

As the novel opens, a girl named Elossa is making her way towards the mountain range where she, as a member of the Yurth race, must undergo an obligatory Vision Quest –type experience. As with all such acolytes, the exact nature of the knowledge she will receive has not been disclosed to her by the elder members of her tribe, but there are warnings: not all who attempt the Quest, return.

As Elossa approaches the site of the Vision Quest, she discovers she has a pursuer – a young Raski boy. His intentions are unknown, but Elossa will find her fate and his bound together. For in the mountains lies the truth behind the events that have made the Yurth and the Raski enemies – and the maddened remnants of an ancestral culture, one with little love for trespassers……

While the odds are that a given Andre Norton novel will be readable, even entertaining, ‘Yurth Burden’ is one of her worst novels.

Norton appears to have made a conscious decision to adopt the over-written, highly stylized prose style employed by Tanith Lee and C. J. Cherryh in their fantasy and sf novels of the 70s. Unfortunately for Norton, the result is wooden dialogue devoid of the use of contractions, and clunky, stilted, descriptive passages that I often had to re-read multiple times in order to understand.

Things aren’t helped by the plot, which is hampered by the inclusion of overly contrived, episodic material, as if author Norton decided to begin writing without having any sort of overarching storyline in place beforehand.

The book was clearly written for a young adult readership, and however bad the predicaments in which our two heroes may find themselves, it’s not divulging much to hint that they just, might, possibly emerge victorious in the end.

There is a perfunctory quality to ‘Yurth’, a lack of polish, an observation that isn’t too surprising when one realizes that Norton’s tendency towards overproduction made it likely that some of her fiction pieces were going to be clunkers.

The verdict ? Even dedicated Norton fans are going to find ‘Yurth Burden’ slow going. This one safely can be passed by.

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