- File Size: 1403 KB
- Print Length: 136 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publication Date: June 29, 2017
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B073J58F96
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Not Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,025 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
The Hymn of the Pearl Kindle Edition
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As in all the Niemeier stories and books I’ve read, Hymn is set in a fully realized, highly detailed world. The Hymn of the Pearl is the story of Soter, the last Advocate in an ancient land that recalls the Middle East. Rough overview: Advocates were priests who could control fate to some extent, but were very cautious about it because messing with fates is messing with gods. Much of the work of the Advocates consisted of managing human fate to avoid large disasters and assigning human misfortunes to Gheanon, the primordial god of chaos, by means of which they had bound him, more or less. This god is satanic.
Soter had just finished his apprenticeship and was about to marry and embark on a very respectable career when the order of Arbiters arose. These new, scientific fate-controllers destroyed the Advocates by assigning to them all the misfortune they had assigned to Gheanon. All died, except Soter, the newest Advocate – who was cursed with all the evil laid on Gheanon and whose great misfortune is to live. Death would be too easy a way out. All who get involved in his life are infected, as it were, with his fate.
Once he realized what had happened, Soter desperately sought the aid of the Arbiter Manthus to rejigger the fate of his bride to be, who was set on marrying Soter regardless of the curse he was under. Soter knew marriage to him was a horrible fate. It works, to the extent that she marries another. But not quite, as she soon after dies in childbirth. Soter thereafter avoids human entanglements as much as possible.
There is a law of conservation of fate: you can’t create it or destroy it, just move it around, and a price to be paid by those who move it. The trick is to find an appropriate scapegoat, an animal who is made to absorb the bad juju that comes from humans manipulating fate. Arbiters are always looking for such a victim, as if they don’t promptly reassign the price, they themselves will have to pay it in some misfortune or other.
The Arbiters are officially neutral in all political matters. Nonetheless, they find themselves beseeched to mitigate, somehow, the coming disaster of war, which resulted from political intrigue and hubris. There aren’t enough scapegoats in the world to absorb all the bad juju fixing a war would bring, so they get the bright idea: why don’t we get Soter to become an ally with the side we want to lose? We’ll get a couple expert Arbiters, Manthus, since he knows Soter already, and Kore, a women whose expertise is exceeded only by her unscrupulousness, to manage the details around the edges.
Soter is of course appalled, but eventually gets sucked in. Adventures ensue.
The story gets kicked up to another level exactly half way through, when Grapt, one of two characters introduced in the prologue, come on scene in a vision of sorts to Soter and warns him he is messing with forces way bigger than he understands, and that great misfortune disaster will accompany him if he continues. Earlier, Cteria, Grapt's wife and the other character from the prelide, had appeared to Soter to advise and aid him, and Soter was taking her advise. About that prologue: it is the story of the horrible revenge Grapt, a great Advocate, takes on Cteira, another great Advocate, in response to her infidelity – they are bound together and deathless, so that he may inflict torture on her for all eternity. She is aiding Soter, but to the end of breaking her curse. But there is an even greater quest involved.
The curious part is the occasional intrusion – not too distracting, but present – of the feeling you’re reading an allegory of some sort, but can’t quite figure it out. Partly, it’s the names: the protagonist Soter calls to mind soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, with the root soter meaning savior in Greek. Kore, a major side character, might refer to Cor, or heart, in several languages. Manthus might be simply Everyman. But then again, maybe not.
Only after I had read it through once did I look up the title, and discover that it evidently refers to the ancient Hymn of the Pearl, a story from the Gospel of Thomas much beloved by Gnostics and Mormons. Hmmm. In the ancient text, a second royal son is sent to far away Egypt on a mission to retrieve a pearl guarded by a giant serpent. When he arrives, he forgets his mission and who he is, and lives like an Egyptian. Finally, his royal parents send him a reminder letter, he remembers who he is, lulls the snake and retrieves the pearl. He throws off the Egyptian clothes he is wearing, but is greeted on his return trip by servants of his parents who give him glorious new clothes to wear.
I don’t know how much knowing that helped me appreciate the story. Thinking of Soter as a savior of some kind works.
This is maybe the fourth or fifth of Niemeier’s works I’ve read, and it is in many ways the clearest. I admit I get lost in his longer novels – you must read them wide awake, not as bedtime half asleep reading, or they will make no sense. I ended up enjoying them all, even though it was a bit more work to do so than I originally intended. Hymn of the Pearl is less demanding in that sense (or I’m just getting better at it!) but still a rewarding read. I’m still thinking about it, and am 75% of the way through rereading it.
Conclusion: very much recommend.
Soter is the last Advocate, an ancient priesthood who strove to prevent nemein from accumulating by transferring it to others, usually some type of animal. The Advocates were overthrown by the Arbiters, who replaced what they called superstition of the gods by a science which essentially does the same thing. Soter lives under a curse in which he carries the nemein of the Advocates about with him, and anyone who joins causes with him in any way joins him in his curse.
Manthus is an Arbiter who seeks Soter out. They knew each other years ago. Two kingdoms are about to go to war, and Manthus wants to stop it or at least diminish its effects. The aggressor kingdom is sure to be defeated. The Arbiters are supposed to be politically neutral, but money talks; they've been bribed by a faction in the aggressor kingdom to intervene. He wants Soter to enlist in one of the armies. In do so, that army will fall under Soter's curse and end up defeated. Meanwhile, the Arbiters maintain the appearance of neutrality.
Soter, who is the most honorable person in the story, is less than keen on this idea. But he reluctantly goes along with the plan in hopes to minimize the loss of life.
I really enjoyed this story. It takes place over a period of months. Neimeier, to steal a phrase from another writer (Elmore Leonard?), leaves out the parts people skip over by not detailing any of the travel that doesn't actively move the story forward. While this approach felt a bit choppy in a place or two, it prevented the action from flagging.
The setting is clearly modeled on antiquity, which is a nice change from the medieval/steampunk/dieselpunk/urban fantasy settings that so many authors are using these days. At times I was reminded of the work of K. J. Parker, but with less snark. That's a compliment in case you were wondering.
I don't want to spoil any of the story details to you, but I will say that the author has weaved an interesting thread of fate here. Actions have consequences. No one can escape their fate, but they may exchange it with another. I was fascinated by this entire system - it has a well thought out level of depth that would rival any of Sanderson's magic systems.
If you've enjoyed Brian's other works, I would recommend you read The Hymn of the Pearl. The author has shown that he can play to his strengths regardless of genre. He has also shown his talent for creating a full fledged fantasy in a standalone novella format. Not an easy task. Kudos for succeeding.
When used in many fantasy stories, "fate" or "destiny" is simply this impersonal, all-powerful force that will be obeyed, whether the people involved are willing or not. But what if this force could be manipulated? What if this force is not all-powerful?
This story will not just entertain you, but make you think. Go read it!