Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A McKillip

Review of The Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A McKillip

This trilogy consists of The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind.

Patricia McKillip is one of Stephen Donaldson’s favourite authors, so, being happy to take the recommendation of one of my favourite authors, I wanted to read some of her work. Although this trilogy has been reissued in the Fantasy Masterworks series, she doesn’t seem to be very well-known. Reading her is also part of my ongoing mission to read as much fantasy by as many different authors as I can.

Each of the books in the trilogy is short – Harpist in the Wind is the longest at 250 pages – but I still found them a little arduous to read. This may just be because I’m travelling and not in the best situation to concentrate on reading. The language of the series has a certain delicate elegance, and in some senses it read a bit like a romance.

Morgon, Prince and Riddle-Master of Hed, is the central character in the first book; for book two his girlfriend, Raederle, takes over while he is missing in action; Morgon returns and is again the viewpoint character in the final volume. The story is partly about their relationship, but mainly is about the struggle in the realm between the people, ruthless sea-born shapechangers and the mysterious and absent High One (a kind of mystical emperor).

Even for such short books, the action seems to move pretty slowly. People talk and travel and muse and agonise, but there seems to be little in the way of conflict and resolution – barring the overall plot arc. The books are certainly deliberately written this way – they are a more thoughtful, emotional, even gentle form of fantasy. As such they work pretty well – just not perfectly, I think.

There’s certainly a lot of pleasure to be had reading this trilogy, but for me there was a certain energy and robustness of plot missing.

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