Jodie Forrest,
The Rhymer & the Ravens
(Seven Paws, 1992)

I know the tale of Thomas the Rhymer fairly well. I expected The Rhymer & the Ravens by Jodie Forrest to be yet another variation on that theme. It's not -- or, rather, the relationship between the legendary Thomas the Rhymer and Forrest's Tomas the Rhymer is tenuous at best.

The Thomas of legend is a Scottish minstrel who is seduced by the Queen of Elfland, spends a period of silent servitude with her in her realm and is gifted with true speech and foresight upon his return to the mortal plane. Forrest's Tomas is a minstrel among Vikings, half Norse and half Welsh. His meeting with the Queen is not part of an idyllic encounter under some tree in a forest glen; instead, he meets her after fleeing a bloody Viking raid led by his fierce half-brother. His period of service is not silent, and is his return to this world is the beginning of a dangerous mission assigned him by the Queen.

Soon, Tomas is embroiled in the fates of the Saxon king Alfred, various sailors, merchants, seers and lords, and the Norse gods themselves. His own nature, he learns, is not what he believed, even as he struggles with the difficulties of being unable to lie.

Forrest's story is so unlike the legend, I'm surprised she bothered to connect them at all. Even so, the book is an enjoyable read, filled with suspense, humor and cross-cultural lore.

By the end, however, the story -- with its endless parade of mortal and fey supporting characters -- has grown somewhat confusing, and the plot was not resolved entirely to my satisfaction. Still, I enjoyed it enough that I expect I'll be looking for a copy of The Elves' Prophecy, the promised sequel.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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