Monday, December 12, 2011

The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip

Book Jacket

At the start, it must be understood that Hed was not a place that produced heroes.  The people of Hed were farmers.  Even the princes of Hed were farmers.  And Morgon was a prince of Hed.  But he was something more, too.  He was the best student the College of Riddle-Masters at Caithnard had ever had.  He had staked his life on a seven-hundred-year-old riddle game that everyone else had lost, and won.

Though Morgon tried to be a simple prince of Hed, the times nad his own destiny were against him.  For Morgon carried on his forehead three stars, which no one had ever been able to interpret.  There was a harp with the same three stars that only he could play.  There was a sword with stars that only he could wield, reluctant as he was to take it: the farmers of Hed were not warriors; a prince of Hed could not kill.

Most of all, though, it was the riddles about stars that drew him on.  What did they mean, the ones that linked the end of the age with a star-bearer?  Who were the legendary fiigures that suddenly seemed to surround him and lead him into adventures he did not want?  Morgon, Prince of Hed, Riddle-Master, did not want to know, and yet, it appeared, he had to find out.

This is the first of what will eventually be three books.  It is not a book for readers who like their stories neatly wrapped up in one short volume.  It is not a book for readers who like immediate answers to questions asked.  The story of Morgon only begins here; many questions are raised, but the answers must come later.


If you like the idea of epic fantasy but avoid the books because of their tendency to describe a scenic hill for three paragraphs, then McKillip's trilogy is for you.  I have gotten so used to skimming that her brevity caused me to reread several times.  She tells in one page what another author might take a whole chapter to do.

As such, her style is not for everyone.  I like a bit more explanation in my stories.  It wasn't until the 4th chapter that I really got invested, because she drops her readers in the middle of the mythology and plot and world-building without ever doing a bit of exposition.  If there could be some middle-ground between her sparse style and the usual verbosity, I would...really like that.

Style aside, McKillip can tell a good story.  I adore Morgon.  His identity crisis and fear of being someone special rang close to home for me.  It's a question we all can ask:  Would we rather pursue a "normal life" with a 9-5 job and house payments, or do we want to go out adventuring and bettering the world?  Morgon's crisis kind of inspired me.

There are shape-shifters, stone children, and bouts of amnesia.  I think that should be enough to convince everyone that it's an intriguing book?

Four out of five mute harps.

Release Date: August 1976
Reading Level: Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: Not currently part of Dunlap's collection.

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