Madeline's Reviews > Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy

Riddle-Master by Patricia A. McKillip
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Jun 14, 13

it was amazing
bookshelves: stories-from-my-childhood, sff, quest, high-fantasy, family, essentials, music, epigrammatic, novels, 2013, love-story, we-used-to-be-friends
read count: 10? 15?

1. These three novels were really formative for me - I read them, I think, when I was ten (I got this collection for my eleventh birthday, and I'd already read them all at least once).

2. There's a betrayal at the end of the first novel that ruined me for all other fictional betrayals. Caesar? Ned Stark? #KanyeShrug. Probably real life betrayals, too. Whatever happens to me in the future, it won't be as bad as what happened to ten-year-old me at the end of The Riddle-Master of Hed (well, maybe the job market).

3. When you first meet Morgon, he's hungover. Then he has a fight with his family [about his secret life]! Ah, family happiness. Then he leaves them, and there his troubles begin. (No, no, really they started way back, but no one knows this yet.) McKillip owes some things to Tolkien, of course she does, and maybe the strongest overlap is the overlap of the Shire and Hed:
"I'm not even sure the farmers of Hed believe anything exists beyond Hed, and the High One. Of all the six kingdoms, Hed is the only one the wizards never sought service in - there wasn't anything for them to do. The wizard Talies visited it once and said it was uninhabitable: it was without history, without poetry, and utterly without interest. The peace of Hed is passed like the land-rule, from ruler to ruler; it is bound into the earth of Hed, and it is the High One's business, not mine, to break that peace."
"But -" Lyra said stubbornly.
"If I ever carried a weapon into Hed and told the people of Hed to arm themselves, they would look at me as though I were a stranger - and that is what I would be: a stranger in my own land, the weapon like a disease that would wither all the living roots of Hed."

And Morgon, who realizes pretty quickly he's stepped into something bigger than he thought, tries to get back there every change he gets. The Riddle-Master of Hed (be honest: that is an awesome title) takes Morgon through the six kingdoms - this will be important later, I won't tell you how because one of the joys of these books is seeing how something that seems like a lovely bit of detail becomes terribly important later on - and in each kingdom he's confronted with something, and each time he tries to opt out. But he never does, because you can't opt out of heroic quests. But also because he's curious. "Beware the unanswered riddle," we're told, and it's a lesson Morgon has internalized. In fact, he's internalized it so well that he keeps trying to run away from the answer. But that only lasts so long, as it quickly becomes apparent that the entire world, really, is conspiring to make avoidance impossible: "If they kill you in Hed, they'll still be there, and so will Eliard. And we'll be alive, asking questions, without you to answer them," Lyra, the warrior princess points out.

4. I mean, obviously, there are ways in which my feelings and opinions about this series are not to be trusted. I read it at an early, impressionable age - my judgment was definitely clouded forever in some ways. But I really love the women in these books. The second book, Heir of Sea and Fire is Raderle's journey, the answer to The Riddle-Master of Hed, and although she retreats significantly in the third book, she stills gets her own development - it's, actually, importantly, a development that mirrors and echoes Morgon's.
"What in Hel's name do you think I'm doing in this College?" She let her hands fall and wondered if, behind the armor of his solitude, she had at last got his attention. "I would be that for you, if I could," she cried. "I would be mute, beautiful, changeless as the earth of An for you. I would be your memory, without age, always innocent, always waiting in the King's white house at Anuin - I would do that for you and for no other man in the realm. But it would be a lie, and I will do anything but lie to you - I swear that."

Raederle's journey is one of action. She's not passive, even at the beginning, but she is slightly ornamental ("the second most beautiful woman in the Three Portions of An," "the great treasure of the Three Portions") and she lashes out against that - "I've never done anything in my life," she says, long after that's stopped being true.

5. People make a big deal about McKillip's prose, which is understandable, because it's magnificent and slightly tricky. You do have to read every word in a way you don't often have to in prose, because she elides description and action, so something that starts out as setting the tone might turn out to be an important plot development. And McKillip is efficient, economical. The Riddle-Master of Hed is only 187 pages; books 2 and 3 are likewise slim. I particularly love the first lines of the first two books: "Morgon of Hed met the High One's harpist one autumn day when the trade-ships docked at Tol for the season's exchange of goods." and "In spring, three things came invariably to the house of the King of An: the year's first shipment of Herun wine, the lords of the Three Portions for the spring council, and an argument." But I think they understate the humor. Again, understandable - the humor is itself rather understated. It's there, though - and it serves an important counterpoint to the solemnity of everything else. Har, the wolf king, is particularly good for this - he gets some of the best lines, and I always hear him as Peter O'Toole (there is something cinematic about these books, but then, the majority of the decisive action takes place inside people's minds - so there is something much more vital that is quite anti-cinematic). The unruly royal families of Hed and An are also a source of humor, and of love, and of hope, and of fire.

6. Oh, and the other similarity with Tolkien that speaks strongly to me, though I think McKillip commits to it more, is the desire for peace.
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Quotes Madeline Liked

Patricia A. McKillip
“I came back."
"Suppose you hadn't?"
"I came back! Why can't you understand, instead of thinking as though your brains are made of oak. Athol's son, with his hair and eyes and vision -"
"No!" Tristan said sharply. Eliard's fist, raised and knotted, halted in midair. Morgon dropped his face again against his knees. Eliard shut his eyes.
"Why do you think I'm so angry?" he whispered.
"I know."
"Do you? Even - even after six months I still expect to hear her voice unexpectedly, or see him coming out of the barn, or in from the fields at dusk. And you? How will I know, now, that when you leave Hed, you'll come back? You could have died in that tower for the sake of a stupid crown and left us watching for the ghost of you, too. Swear you'll never do anything like that again."
"I can't."
"You can."
Morgon raised his head, looked at Eliard. "How can I make one promise to you and another to myself? But I swear this: I will always come back."
"How can you -"
"I swear it.”
Patricia A. McKillip, Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy

Reading Progress

06/08/2013 marked as: currently-rereading
06/14/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by mark (new)

mark monday excellent review!

Madeline Thanks a lot!

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