Giving Up on Three Hearts and Three Lions

Aug 28 2009

Three Hearts and Three Lions cover

Three Hearts and Three Lions cover

A friend of mine recommended this Poul Anderson fantasy novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions a while back. I’ve finally been working my way through it.

I’m not going to finish it.

It’s about a guy who wakes up in a fantasy world, and can mysteriously speak the language and ride a horse and fight (quite well!) in armor. And he’s trying to figure out how he got here, and why. So he’s talked to a nearby witch, who’s directed him to the nearest elven lord for advice. He’s attracted a dwarf and a shapeshifting girl as companions.

That’s it. I’m 1/3 of the way through the book, and that’s as far as we’ve gotten.

I don’t mean to be impatient, but at some point this ceases to be worth my time. There’s some fine writing, and some fine sequences, but the story’s dull as dirt. The characters are fun, but none have much stake in anything.

Worse, this is not a bland novel. Anderson was a strong writer, and this world comes alive at times. I find his use of phonetic dialect frustrating (I kid you not, this is an exact quote: “‘Tis naw so canny a steadin’ ye’re boon fawr.”), but it does add richness to his characters. And the protagonist was a smart engineer in his past life, so he’s constantly evaluating his surroundings to figure out the scientific implications (“He wondered what they used in place of steel. Aluminum alloys? Surely magic could extract aluminum from bauxite. Beryllium, magnesium, copper, nickel, chrominum, manganese—while doubltless correct, the idea of an elvish wizard with a spectroscope was funny enough to restore a balance in Holger.”).

But, ultimately, the book feels like no more than a neat idea and a richly-imagined medieval world. And I’m sorry, but I need a little more out of that in my novels right now.

(Writers: Does this describe your novel? What could you do to give the characters a more pressing problem to deal with?)

So, this one goes back on the shelves. A pity; I loved Anderson’s The High Crusade.

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