Patricia McKillip,
The Riddle-Master of Hed
(Ballantine, 1976)
The Heir of Sea & Fire
(Ballantine, 1977)
Harpist in the Wind
(Ballantine, 1979)

Omnibus edition (Ace, 1999)

It is a time when all knowledge is couched in riddles and the learned man is a master of riddlery. Morgon, the Prince of Hed, born with three stars on his forehead and educated at the College of Riddlery, is such a man. Having bested the ghost of Peven of Aum in a riddle match, he travels to An to claim his prize, the hand in marriage of Raederle, the second most beautiful woman of An. Traveling with him is the High One's harpist, Deth.

But Morgon's journey to An is interrupted by a shipwreck, leaving him on a strange shore, voiceless and nameless. Thus begins his quest across the realms that will ultimately take him to the court of the High One at Erlenstar Mountain, for someone or something fears the meaning of the three stars on his face. Along the way, he is pursued by mysterious shapechangers who try to kill him again and again. He acquires a harp and a sword, both decorated by three stars. He learns to change his own shape, but he cannot unravel the riddle of the three stars on his forehead or the harp and sword that were obviously made for him centuries before he was born.

In the second book in the trilogy, The Heir of Sea & Fire, Raederle of An is the main character. Morgon, for whom she was waiting, disappeared after leaving Isig on the last leg of his journey to Erlenstar Mountain. No one has any idea what happened to him or where the High One's harpist, his escort, has gone. Joined by the martial Lyra of Herun and Tristan, Morgon's younger sister, Raederle sets out to find him. In the pursuit of her own quest, Raederle learns that her magical powers are not so small as she had believed and that they stem from the very shapechangers who are hunting Morgon. In the end, she becomes something that not even she recognizes anymore.

The trilogy's last book, Harpist in the Wind, opens with Morgon and Raederle reunited in An. Morgon has become very powerful, as adept at changing his shape as the shapechangers who want to kill him. He has been harried from one end of the realms to another, lost the land-rule of Hed and started to learn wizardry. Now, he must journey to the city of Lungold, to find the remaining wizards, battle the city's founder, the evil Ghisteslwchlohm, and finally learn the meaning to the riddle of the three stars on his face. Determined not to lose him again, Raederle travels with Morgon. Along the way, she must come to terms with her heritage and her growing powers.

These early books from the pen of Patricia McKillip show all the lyricism and magic of later novels such as The Book of Atrix Wolfe, although I found them much easier to follow. Some of McKillip's later work seems to me to take place in a mist of magical imagery which makes it difficult for readers such as myself who tend to skim over vast tracts of description to follow. You simply cannot do that with McKillip's work; you'll miss something important if you don't read every word.

It is very easy to get lost in McKillip's worlds and find yourself surfacing only for meals and the occasional nap. I found these books difficult to put down; in fact, I read the entire trilogy in only a few days, which is unusual for me. (Spare time? What's that?) Since an omnibus edition with a new foreword by the author has recently been issued, new readers should not have a difficult time finding this marvelous trilogy.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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