I have owned my battered copies of Patricia McKillip’s trilogy The Riddlemaster of Hed for over two and a half decades. I suppose that, more than anything else, is the best recommendation a reader can give an author. I recently left a very toxic work situation and am remodeling our flat before moving in, all at the same time, and have found myself under rather more stress than is usual. I turn in such situations to the tried and true methods of solace, which brings me to the Riddlemaster trilogy.
What I admire about Ms. McKillip’s writing is its spare majesty. She turns simple sentences into lyric descriptions but without a bunch of padding. While the underlying story is familiar to fantasy readers in that it’s the young apprentice setting out on his quest, losing his mentor then finding him again and achieving ascendancy over evil, in her hands it becomes something beautiful and worth re-reading. I have lost count how many times I’ve read these books over the years; they have my first-ever bookplates from when I was a teenager. I open them and I open my memories at the same time.
I have little gift for reviewing books. I heard today on NPR the review of a new book coming out and wondered at the author’s ability to share the story in such a way as to make the listener want to go read it. Reading is such a personal experience, after all. If pressed why I like this trilogy, though, I’d say because it’s well-written – but that’s hardly a specific thing, is it? What makes it well-written?
The story is simple. Our hero, Morgon, leaves his homeland to claim his bride but is shipwrecked on the journey and loses his memory. He is rescued by an exiled prince who nurses him back to health. They are brought before the king and in the king’s house, Morgon finds a harp with three stars that mimic a birthmark on his forehead. When he plays the harp, his memory returns to him and
he realizes the harp was made centuries before his birth by a man long dead. Strangers want to kill him because of the stars on his face. What drives him forward, though, is the knowledge that while he could return home and ignore all of the implications of his own growing power and what his birthright might be, he can never give his betrothed a lie of himself – he must give her his whole truth.
“When you open your heart to the knowing of a thing, there is no room in you for fear.” Her pacing is masterful. She balances action with tight conflict and dialog and I find myself awed each time I pick up her books. They are as familiar to me as the cheekbone of a dear friend and yet I learn something new each time.
Do you have a favorite series that you turn to over and over, that “stands the test of time,” as it were? What are your dear book-friends?
– E.E. Cummings
Book 1 BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for “Seeking Hearts”, coming soon from Torquere Books.
Check out COOK LIKE A WRITER , available from Barnes and Noble.
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