Shardik is one of two novels written by Richard Adams to be set in the Beklan Empire. Although the events of this book happen after those in Maia, I recommend reading Shardik first; Adams wrote Shardik first, and there are few if any historical references to the earlier period which are not explained or self evident. As this book was written first, its context is self contained.

The cover of the book has a picture of a bear, and so initially, I was expecting the book to be a tale about anthropomorphized bears - much on the lines of Watership Down. But no, I was pleasantly surprised: the book is clearly about the endeavours of man.

The central character is a man called Keldarek, a simple fellow, even in the eyes of his peers in the primitive society of Ortelga in which he lives. He is a loner, a solitary fellow, earning his keep as a hunter, and eschewing wine and women, preferring the company instead of fatherless children. What happens when a person like this receives the word of God?

It was prophesied that Ortelgans would rule once again in Bekla as they had in the past. This book is also about what happens when a cultured society is taken over by a more primitive, fundamentalist, and in this case animalistic one. The culture gap shows the lack of preparedness for government on the part of the Ortelgans, and this is mirrored in a similar lack of preparedness on the part of Keldarek.

It is a highly moral book, about accepting the consequences of actions, and the folly of short term expedients which ignore the big picture. Also featured is that any of the evil characters will ultimately receive their just deserts. In fact, for the most evil, there is a special place called the Streels of Urtah, which is a kind of Hell on Earth.

There are many twists to the plot, and I find the book riveting. There is also a military campaign (usually present or thinly disguised in Adams' books), much intrigue, and a love story. I enjoy the others, but I rate Shardik as Richard Adams best book.

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