A retro review from March 17, 2012 …
Review: Winter in Eden, Harry Harrison, 1986.
Harrison continues the tale of a war between Stone Age humans and the Yilanè, intelligent descendants of dinosaurs which, in this world, were not wiped out by a cometary impact.
This second book in the series is centered on what, for us, would be the Atlantic Ocean and the theme of discovery. The villain of the series, the Yilanè Vaintè, is now discredited after the destruction of the race’s first transoceanic colony. She was leader of the city, and the blowback of her genocidal war on human and one in particular, her former captive and hero of the story, Kerrick, led to that result. She convinces the leadership of another city to help her renew her attacks against the humans in the western hemisphere of Earth – necessary because an encroaching ice age is driving the Yilanè out of their Eurasian and African homes. (Harrison gives Kerrick a prologue in the book which adequately summaries the events of the first book, but I’d recommend reading West of Eden anyway.)
For his part, Kerrick hopes to put the ruins of the Yilanè city to some use. He also becomes quite attached and concerned with two Yilanè males. Like him, they were prisoners of Vaintè, and, like all males of that race, confined to a harem existence. Their discoveries and their hard-won self-confidence and knowledge, their exultation in the freedom of the world beyond the harem walls, is a major charm of this novel.
Harrison introduces an Eskimo-like race of human (though they have vestigial tails) nomads called the Paramutan which figure in the adventures of Kerrick and the wife and son he is separated from. It is their knowledge and exploration of the northern part of the ocean that will become important in the plot and another confrontation between Kerrick and Vaintè. Also crossing the sea, in the other direction, are the exiled Daugthers of Death, a pacifistic sect that holds all life sacred and that are regarded as dangerous subversives in all Yilanè cities. Aided by a legendary, cranky, caustic scientist who also has been banished, they discover this world’s version of South America. Harrison, with this, gives us an engaging plot where the otherworldly concern with religious contemplation clashes with the practical commands and wishes of that scientist.
Harrison also, in the Yilanè-human war, shows the innovation each side undertakes. The Yilanè develop new weapons and defenses using their supremely sophisticated genetic engineering. Humans rely on their species’ knack for deception and trickery.
All in all, a worthy effort that, even though it’s a middle book in a trilogy, manages to almost feel complete on its own. As with the first novel, at least in hardcover, Bill Sanderson provides many line drawings that vividly illustrate Harrison’s world and, especially, creatures. Also, as with the first book, there is an appendix on the languages and background of this world. With the introduction of the Paramutan, it differs somewhat from the appendix in West of Eden.