I’m sure everyone reading this has a certain book, or series of books, that they first read in their youth, and look back on with great fondness. For me, that series is the Pelbar Cycle, and it starts with The Breaking of Northwall.
Originally published in 1981, and written by Paul O. Williams, The Breaking of Northwall is the first of seven books set about 1000 years after a world-wide apocalypse that has reduced the peoples of the mid-western United States into roaming bands of warring tribes, and the people known as the Pelbar, who live in great walled cities on what they call the Heart River.
Book One tells the story of Jestak, a Pelbar who, through various adventures, forms strong friendships with members of the Pelbars’ enemies, the Sentani, and the Shumai. Those relationships become the seed on which much broader ties grow between the groups, particularly when confronted with a common enemy.
I don’t know what the literary term is, but you’ll all recognize the cliche of the seemingly-meek character, thought a coward because they’re not overly aggressive and would prefer to avoid a fight if they’re able, but who when forced, can more than defend themselves. Well, this book is chock-full of those types of situations, mostly in regard to Jestak, but also the entire Pelbar people as well. If you get off on those kinds of things, like I do, you’ll like this book.
On the post-apocalyptic side of things, there aren’t a lot of ruins and such, but it is interesting to hear the names of the people and places and try to figure out how they relate to our current time. (If I remember right, there’s a glossary at the end of book two that explains a lot of the backstory.) The characters know little about the “time of fire” but through Jestak’s travels, they start to assemble clues that show that all of the tribes in the area were originally one people. In this book, gunpowder is rediscovered, and in the later books, there are other advances like the rediscovery of the steam engine.
With the possible exception of The Stand, the books of the Pelbar Cycle probably did more to cultivate my love of post-apocalyptic fiction than any other book. I’ll always remember them as one of my favorites, and I’m glad I decided to give them another read. I think that if I read it for the first time now, I’d still think it was a great book, and if you’re able to track down a copy, I hope that you’ll think so too.
ps I only decided to read this book again after a post on Cosy Catastrophe said he was going to read it, so be sure to head over there to read his review when it’s up. I’ll be curious to see what he thinks of it, with a perspective that’s not clouded by nostalgia like mine is.