Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Book Review)

Title: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman  
Author: Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Publisher: Bantam
My Rating: 2.5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: The 30-years-in-coming sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz which shows flashes of the original's brilliance, but on the whole ends up being a disjointed and lacklustre, though interesting, parallel novel to the classic original.

This is one of those books that a really wanted to like, and which had many elements that I did like, but in the end must be called disappointing and perhaps mediocre. Although, to be fair, it did grip my attention sufficiently that I kept reading it every lunch break until it was done which cannot be said for other novels like Witch World which I've been "working on" for 6 months and just cannot get into it. I finished off Saint Leibowitz in less than a month despite continued illness.

The main character, Blacktooth Saint George, is one of the main problems with this work. He's basically a narcissistic, self-centred, whiner. At the beginning of the novel, this is forgivable, as he still has a certain likeability about him, a charming naivete, and he is still struggling manfully to overcome his demons. So one expects him to develop into a good protagonist, but rather than develop he tends to stagnate and even regress over the course of 450 pages. As far as I was concerned, he'd devolved into a thorough donkey cave by about page 300 and did not redeem himself by the end.

The good of the work is the worldbuilding. Taking place around the time of the second novella in the classic original, this work fleshes out the post-apocalptic North America A LOT more. This was very well (and thoroughly done) and enjoyable. Aside from Blacktooth Saint George, there were a number of interesting and likeable secondary characters, although some of them seemed to disappear around the halfway point of the work.

The plot tends to jump around a bit too, and the end seemed very rushed. In all, the novel really felt like something that a man had struggled with for 30 years and then had it finished by someone else who was unwilling to input too much of himself into the work, and therefore leaving blanks instead. It definitely had flashes of Miller's brilliance from the original and many memorable individual scenes. But as a whole, the work just does not hold up. It is also a much more depressing and "dark" work in the "Song of Rape and Torture" vein where there are few real good guys and everyone does lots of very bad stuff (some of it seemingly for no reason) evincing a tortured soul who, if he hadn't lost his faith, was on the verge of it.


Sophia's Favorite said...

With the possible exception of P. G. Wodehouse, I can't think of any writer who maintains his quality late into his career. Either they can't keep the old magic (which sounds like the problem here), or they get "protection from editors" and just start filling their books with their weird little fetishes. Heinlein famously had the second problem, leading people to divide his work between the "juveniles" and the "seniles". The later Dune books (not the prequels by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, I mean the ones by Frank Herbert) apparently started to get the first problem.

carmeljamaica said...

Wow! I have A Canticle for Leibowitz, and I have yet to read it, and the sequel seems interesting, based on what you've written. Hopefully I can get a copy of that, too.

Great review, sir.

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