I keep going back every decade or so to John Myers Myers. Usually it is to immerse myself fully in his magnum opus, Silverlock. But this most recent re-read was The Harp and The Blade. The cover art in my edition is nice, though the cover description is utterly misleading: “A fantasy of Druidic England.” Wrong on all points. It is quite a feat to be so entirely mistaken. Imprimus, it is not a fantasy, but rather a work of historical fiction. Secundus, it is set circa 950 AD. Hardly the druidic era. Tertius, the story takes place entirely in France. Not a second of action occurs in England.
But don’t let boneheaded marketing fool you. This book is terrific. (Digression: It is third historical novel marketed as fantasy that I’ve read recently. They have all been good. I don’t know what to make of that.) It tells the story of an Irish bard, Finnian, trying to make his way across France. By deliberate inaction he allows a man to die. The only fantastic element occurs shortly thereafter: he is cursed (or believes he is cursed) to help those in need. In the tumultuous power vacuum post-Charlemagne, with viking raids, and North African corsair raids, and local petty princes fighting for territory, Finnian finds more than one person in need of help. Most notably he helps a local minor noble, commencing a friendship. Battles, captures, escapes, romance, and feasting all follow, written about in warm, glowing, accessible prose.
John Myers Myers was a singular talent. His writing is suffused with joie de vivre. He peppers his stories with poetry. Poetry you read rather than skip, as it tends to be delightful, witty doggerel. The entire gamut of the human experience is presented, he doesn’t shy away from the dark aspects. Yet what rises to the top is joy. The interludes of drinking, companionship, and banter absolutely sparkle. Reading John Myers Myers tends to exercise the smile muscles. But of course, as Myers Myers did seem to have a sober grasp on humanity, the end of The Harp and the Blade is…well, I won’t spoil it for those of you lucky enough to read it for the first time.