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Monday, May 22, 2023

Robert Shea's novels, a reader's guide

Robert Shea was largely known for co-authoring Illuminatus! but before his death he wrote a number of historical novels, with the first, Shike: Time of the Dragons published in 1981, and the last, Shaman, appearing in 1991. Others were in the works when he died in 1994. 

All of his novels have been released under a Creative Commons license by Mike Shea, Robert Shea's son, and there are various places on the Internet where you are free to download them as ebooks. My suggestion is to use Project Gutenberg if you want to read Shaman or the two Saracen novels, as they are probably a bit better copyedited than any other editions. Otherwise, you may try the Internet Archive or the Amazon Kindle marketplace or the copies posted at the official Robert Shea website.  

If you want to read an actual book, some of them have been reprinted as new books by Mike Shea, available from vendors such as Amazon, and there are used copies available. is probably the best place on the Internet to find cheap used books. 

While All Things Are Lights is my personal favorite and the one perhaps that has the most themes in common with Illuminatus!, the novels are generally similar in quality and style. They are tightly plotted, with nonstop action and a hero that has James Bond qualities of competence in dealing with his enemies. There is usually a strong element of romance and a fair amount of sex. You get a colorful, detailed sense of what life was like at the time and place of the setting. Shea was not above altering the details of history a bit to advance his story, but the books generally are historically accurate.

Perhaps one way to choose which book to try would be to pick the one that covers a period of history that fascinates you. I'll link to the Wikipedia entries, but you might want to avoid them if  you want to avoid spoilers. 

The books: 

Shike, essentially two novels that tell one story. The two are Time of the Dragons and Last of the Zinja. The setting is medieval Japan and China at the time of Kublai Khan, which means that you also learn a lot about the Mongols. Wikipedia entry. 

All Things Are Lights. The action takes place during the reign of Louis IX, king of France, also known as St. Louis, (1214-1270). There's a lot in the book about courtly love and about the Templars. The setting is mostly medieval France. I'll lead a discussion of the book later this week. I can't find a separate entry for this work on Wikipedia. 

The Saracen. Like Shike, these are two novels that tell one story, with Land of the Infidel followed by The Holy War. The setting is medieval Italy at the time of St.  Thomas Aquinas, a little after the action in All Things Are Lights. While the main character is a Muslim warrior, one of the other main characters is the son of two of the main characters in All Things are Lights. Wikipedia entry. 

Shaman. This one has a Native American hero and is set in the time of the Black Hawk War, no Wikipedia entry. The action takes place in the Midwest, which in 1832 was an American frontier. 


Eric Wagner said...

I loved Shike. I really looked forward to All Things Are Lights back in 1986, but I felt a bit let down by the novel. (Perhaps I had gotten my expectations too high.) I have not finished his other books.

Spookah said...

I know little about Bob Shea's work apart from Illuminatus! so I am grateful for this special week, a nice occasion to learn something.