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Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard    by Lawrence M. Schoen order for
by Lawrence M. Schoen
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If you've read SF for as long as I have, you would have appreciated David Brin's remarkable Uplift series, in which humanity works alongside various species they have modified genetically to become our equals. Though Lawrence M. Schoen's Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard stars uplifted elephants, I'd label this as more of what happens after the Uplifted Strike Back. Humans play a minuscule role.

The galaxy is filled with uplifted mammals. The Fant, uplifted elephants, are universally despised for their lack of fur, and have been isolated on rainy Barsk. But the other races' interest grew after the Fant developed advanced pharmaceuticals, in particular koph, which allows those with the talent, Speakers, to communicate with the dead. The lead in this novel is a young Fant Speaker/historian, Jorl, whose best friend Arlo inexplicably killed himself, leaving a wife and young son. The latter, Pizlo, is an outcast, invisible to most Fant, because he was conceived before his parents bonded. But small Pizlo has talents of his own, that will take him far.

When they feel it is their time to die, Fant elders are called to a special place, where they journey by boat or raft. As this novel opens, we see one such elder's journey interrupted as he is kidnapped by outworlders - why? It seems that a powerful group is trying to break Barsk's monopoly on koph and seek to learn how to produce it. Trying to communicate with particular dead Fant for his historical research, Jorl is dismayed to find that he cannot contact them. This - as well as information gleaned by Pizlo from his lunar visions of the future - sets Jorl on the trail of the outworld plot.

Barsk has a subtle and complex plot, in which the living interfere with the dead - and the dead with the living - and two brave heroes in Jorl and young Pizlo. They do eventually triumph as they save their race from extinction after Jorl learns to use the secret his friend gave his life to protect. If you're an SF fan, dive into Barsk - it's unique and compelling.

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