Wow. I don’t know where to start with this trilogy — The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind — by Patricia McKillip. I’m at a loss for words.

It’s a huge, dense book, a homage to Lord of the Rings. And as a homage, it’s brilliant. Instead of copying the world, or the ideas from Tolkien, she used the themes — of redemption, of the passing of an age, of harnessing and the temptation of power — to craft a masterful work. I was caught up in the story, in the world, wanting to know the answers.

But… it was almost too dense. I would read passages and think “What the heck just happened?”, and re-read them. And they wouldn’t be any clearer. I’d go on with the hope that everything would make itself known in the end. I suppose if you read a book entitled Riddle-Master things are probably going to be confusing for a while. But, when the end finally came, and the resolution, I was oddly disappointed. Perhaps it was that I saw it coming pages before, but just didn’t quite figure it out. Or perhaps it was too pat and I wanted more. But I don’t know what that would entail.

I really enjoyed the first and second books. The first is Morgan (the Riddler of the title, the Prince of Hed, the Star-Bearer) figuring out his destiny, and traveling the realm looking for the High One (think High King) to get some answers. It ends with a spectacular cliff-hanger, which isn’t fully resolved until the end of the third book. The second is all about Raederle, who is Morgan’s love, companion, friend. Morgan disappeared for over a year after the end of the first book. She got worried. And, despite the objections of her father and all the other land-rulers (think oh, the lesser kings in LOTR), she and Morgan’s sister Tristan, and Lyra (a kick-butt guard; think Eowyn) they go looking for him. Raederle figures things out about herself, for herself, and becomes, gradually, Morgan’s equal (or at least comes close) in power. It’s quite the book.

The third, however, doesn’t work as well. It builds up, and builds up, but is way too dense to have made much sense to me. I tried to get it, but it all came crashing down in the end, a huge battle, thousands of lives lost, power thrown and hurled everywhere, and I couldn’t visualize it. I didn’t get it. I don’t get it. Someone will have to explain it all to me.

Still. I’m not sorry I read it. Thanks again, Corrine, for sending the book. I’ll get it back to you soon.

10 thoughts on “Riddle-Master

  1. I agree with you on the third book. I was almost choking on it, there was so much. I finished it almost baffled, and like you, wondering how I actually got to the end. But, I was also glad I read it.


  2. I’ve been thinking about reading this trilogy for a long time since I’m from a dedicated fantasy family. I bet my dad and at least one sister have read it. But 600 pages… I’m doing a lot better with 200 page books right now. Another one to save for some future time on bedrest.


  3. Corrine: I’m so glad it was just me. I wonder about that sometimes. Amira: Amazingly for a nearly 600 page book, it went fairly quickly. I would have finished it sooner, except life got in the way (writing an article for Estella, kids, gardening…)Quixotic: I have read McKillip before — Winter Rose– and was less than impressed. So, maybe she’s hit and miss. I guess the ending is something to ponder on, but after all that happens leading up to it, it just felt really anti-climatic. I think that’s what bugged me the most. I wanted there to be something more spectacular, something more final.


  4. This was the first work of Patricia A. McKillip that I was exposed to. Read it as a young teenager and loved it. Years later I started getting all the other books she wrote after seeing the wonderful Kinuko Craft covers for them. She is a very crafted writer who does get confusing at times because of her use of language. I think it is a good confusing, not born from poor writing skills but more from the depth she is trying to achieve with her writing. I recommend Ombria in Shadow and In the Forests of Serre…great books.


  5. It’s frustrating when that happens with the ending of a book, and even more-so with a trilogy. Still, this sounds worth reading, and I’m yet to read anything by her, so I’ll add it to my ever-increasing TBR list.


  6. I added a link to your review at my Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon (www.semicolonblog.com). Consider this an invitation to add a link to your reviews any Saturday.


  7. Interesting review. How sad to read such a large book and be disappointed. Especially when it started out so well. I have some McKillip books on my TBR list but not this trology. Guess I’ll try them out first.


  8. I’ve read only one McKillip, <>Old Magic<> which I didn’t find dense enough. I’m may try the trilogy, but how disappointing when the final installment is a let down.


  9. carl — thanks for the recommendations; I’ll probably try McKillip sometime again, and it’s good to know where to start.sherry — thanks! I’ll have to try and remember to link there. No guarantees that I will, though. 🙂 Everyone else — the trilogy is really worth reading, even with the letdown at the end. You may even find that you get the whole ending book. If you do, please let me know, so you can explain it to me!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s