‘All lines of cosmic force met in their hands…
Lew Alton was returning to Darkover – returning at the command of men who had once been all too glad to see him leave. For Lew, a Darkovan on his father’s side, and a Terran on his mother’s, had always walked between two worlds, accused by each of belonging to the other, and trusted by neither. Yet Lew alone had the power to understand both worlds and to save them from each other’s unknown forces. That was the reason he had returned at last – armed with the legendary sword of the Sharra matrix, whose destiny was to cross forces with the equally mystic Sword of Aldones in one mighty battle that would decide Darkover’s fate . . .’
Blurb from the 1962 F-153 Ace Doubles Edition
In this ‘Darkover’ novel, Lew Alton – half-Terran, half-Darkovan – has returned from exile to take his place in the Cormyn, which is a kind of House of Lords of the Darkovan folk. He has brought with him a Darkovan relic, The Sword of Sharra. The sword contains a ‘matrix’ which had previously unleashed a power onto the planet, and Lew hopes to use the matrix to now shut the power down. All well and good so far.
Sadly, the narrative is initially bogged down by both a surfeit of largely unnecessary characters and some serious infodumping regarding Lew’s past actions with the Sharra crowd.
Essentially, Bradley has attempted to cover all manner of plot twists and bits of action involving a cast of thousands into an Ace Double ration of pages, and it all ends up as a bit of a mess.
There’s a recurring theme of duality, beginning with Lew meeting a double of Linnell, one of his relations and then mistaking his cousin for his long-unseen younger brother whom he has not seen for several years.
Lew has lost one of his hands by the way, which one suspected may have led to some plot or character development, but ends up making more or less no difference to anything. He also acquires a daughter of which he had no previous knowledge.
An evil relative steals the sword and becomes a threat to the entire planet. It’s up to Lew to find someone who can bond with him telepathically and steal another artefact, the Sword of Andones, in order to save the world.
However, the story gets annoyingly tangled in the actions of far too many people culminating in a scene where Alton, having been attacked, wakes up in a Terran official’s office. Most of the other characters wander in and out, explaining themselves. Lew’s mortal enemy declares himself no longer a mortal enemy but a best friend for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense.
It would appear that Bradley rewrote this to far better effect later under the title ‘Sharra’s Exile’ in 1981.
It’s interesting stylistically as it falls into the Romantic subgenre of the Science Fantasists. To all intents and purposes, this is a fantasy novel, complete with a feudal society, swords with fantastic powers, demon goddesses and arcane laws and rituals. There are, however, no supernatural elements, as everything is explainable (within the internal logic of the book) scientifically.