Described on the back cover of the Coronet edition I read, as Science Fantasy, this novel was first published in 1971, and is the first of a trilogy. I come late to it via my brother who was disposing of it during a small house clearance. I'm glad I chanced upon it.
The setting is another world; the time, the very distant future, when humans have left the Solar System and colonised other planets. This is a world without the computer as we know it, though certain of the tools and devices display functions that we normally associate with computers.
The inhabitants of this strange world, orbiting a binary star system, have degenerated into a great number of disparate tribes, all with their own specific beliefs and prejudices. Violence is almost unheard of, except in the brutal way that life is terminated in the case of transgression. But a breed of what seem to be mutants descend from the wild hills and prey on the women to ensnare and impregnate them to act as brood mares for their offspring. It is this outbreak of uncharacteristic wild violence that spurs the hero into action.
Sects of various types illustrate the way that religion and faith can so easily dominate an otherwise rational population to the detriment of freedom, love and compassion.
I don't wish to give away too much about the story, which is compelling and well constructed. Peopled by believable characters who interact with a strange politeness within the overly controlled society they inhabit, the world is disturbingly odd and yet familiar. Much remains unexplained but footnotes give occasional descriptions of some of the oddly named features and events. The reader is a stranger here but finds empathy with the main character, the hero, introduced as Mur but maturing through ritual to become Etzwane.
There are huge injustices and the sexes are distinctly separate in both temperament and treatment.
I found the story intriguing and grew to empathise with Etzwane in spite of his oddly detached and understated care and compassion for his mother. His determination to act when all around him those in power are determined not to act is endearing. But he is, in common with his fellow inhabitants, strangely unemotional and seeks rational explanations for behaviour which we would accept as springing from emotional sources.
This is a world with little metal but much glass, which is used in its stead for many objects. It is a world of rich and poor, fanatical faithful and determined secular, high fashion and drab utilitarianism. In these respects, much like the Earth from whence these colonists sprang many centuries previously.
The story winds, twists and turns, with much action interspersed with conversation that explains the differences between the various cults without saying how these differences came about. There is a little too much exposition; too much tell and not enough show for a modern reader, but I was prepared to overlook that because the quality of the writing was otherwise very good.
As is common with the fantasy trilogy, this first volume ends after a sort of conclusion of one part of the action, but this is not the satisfactory ending to a book that most readers seek. Clearly the intention is to ensnare the reader into following the rest of the trilogy. And, had I not over 180 titles in my 'to read' list, I might be tempted to do just that. As it is, I have other dishes to sample and whether I ever return to the tale remains to be seen.
For readers of imaginative fantasy I suspect this will prove very satisfactory. It certainly deserves notice for its depth and breadth of imagination; the world being well conceived and constructed. For those who prefer their fantasy fiction in a more predictable form, there are too many oddities and disturbing aspects without the usual crop of thieves, dragons, dwarves or other magical creatures. This is a book with an entirely individual agenda and, as such, I commend it to you.