I swear, this book has taken a lifetime to read. Now, I love the way Richard Adams writes, his creativity with language and his use of accent and dialect is really quite amazing. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me, but the actual writing is really important to me. The story can be horrible, but if the writing is good the book can be saved. This is why I have a problem with Dan Brown. He writes like a 4th grader… no offense to all those 4th graders reading this. The story was semi-decent, but the writing was just bad. Anyway… on to “Shardik”.
I first read “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, and it is, by far, my favorite book. I started reading “Shardik” with high hopes. The first chapter did not disappoint, it had that characteristic language and almost poetic descriptions. It was told from the point of view of a massive bear trying to escape a forest fire.
Chapter two kinda crushed my hopes. Turns out that the book is not told from the point of view of the bear. After finishing the book, I have decided that Richard Adams needs to stick to the point of view of the animal. He’s a kind of naturalist, and he doesn’t get the same response if people are the main characters.
“Plague Dogs”, the other book by Richard Adams, is told from the point of view of two dogs. Awesome. I can’t wait to read it to see if I’m right about all this.
Okay, so my actual review of “Shardik”. I usually only give a book a third of the way through to decide if I want to keep reading it. I will admit, that this one was a real challenge. I almost gave up on it many times. I felt that I owed it to Adams to finish it. So I did. For the record, the bear, Shardik, isn’t even in a quarter of the book at least. Let me give you the gist of the story (if you don’t care or don’t want a spoiler, skip this part):
Kelderek is a hunter who stumbles upon the wounded bear colossus. He assumes that it is Shardik, the Power of God in animal form that was destined to return (it’s been a few hundred years…). He tells the Baron of his village and is taken to see the Tuginda, a high priestess of sorts. It becomes “obvious” that Kelderek has some sort of connection with this bear, and so is considered a sort of bear-priest. With the Power of God in hand, what else do you do besides take over neighboring kingdoms? So that’s what they do. The Tuginda doesn’t approve and she goes back to her island as a prisoner… kinda. It’s a fluke thing that they actually win the kingdom, and Kelderek is made king. In an effort to promote trade, he regulates and allows slave trading. Bad idea. People don’t like the way things are run and there is an attempt on Shardik’s life (yes, they drugged him, put him in a cage and carried him with them). Shardik escapes and Kelderek, who never really wanted to be king and just wanted to give his life to Shardik, goes looking for the bear. Delirious from exhaustion and hunger, he ends up in enemy camp. Nice. They let him go because his capital city changed hands while he was wandering around the countryside, but he is required to only stay in this super dangerous part of the world. Guess who he finds there. The Tuginda. Random, I know. So, they team up and end up in a populated yet equally dangerous part of the world where they meet up with some of the other priestesses of Shardik that they had known before. Chance? Word of Shardik meets up with them there and Kelderek, who has pretty much given up on Shardik altogether, is pressured to go find him. Instead, Kelderek is found by a ruthless and unlicensed slave trader and basically put in chains. Ironic, eh? Shardik shows up, kills some people, leaves, comes back and kills the slave trader (it’s a pretty awesome scene). Kelderek is free once again. Happy endings all around. The sketchy town where they found the other priestesses has been chosen as a point on the new trade route, and they start to clean up their act. The last 20 pages or so are from the point of view of a foreigner who is interested in trade with Kelderek’s side of the world. He keeps hearing about Shardik and asks questions, but Kelderek doesn’t really say anything about the story which is rather annoying.
If I could choose which third of this book I would have liked to have read and then left the rest, I would choose the final third. The end of the book is quite possibly the best part. The action is intense, the people are crazy, and the coincidences are uncanny. I’m really glad I read the whole thing. Since the last thing I read was the best part, I’m finding that my memories of this book are slightly biased by how great the last bit was. Adams also decided to begin a romance at the end of the book. I’m not sure why he didn’t and don’t really feel that it helped the story along. I guess you have to appeal to all audiences. It really was quite difficult for me to read the whole thing, but I’m glad I did. I don’t ever plan on reading it again… unless I go crazy… which is always an option.