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Thomas the Rhymer

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Award-winning author and radio personality Ellen Kushner’s inspired retelling of an ancient legend weaves myth and magic into a vivid contemporary novel about the mysteries of the human heart. Brimming with ballads, riddles, and magical transformations, here is the timeless tale of a charismatic bard whose talents earn him a two-edged otherworldly gift.

A minstrel lives by his words, his tunes, and sometimes by his lies. But when the bold and gifted young Thomas the Rhymer awakens the desire of the powerful Queen of Elfland, he finds that words are not enough to keep him from his fate. As the Queen sweeps him far from the people he has known and loved into her realm of magic, opulence—and captivity—he learns at last what it is to be truly human. When he returns to his home with the Queen’s parting gift, his great task will be to seek out the girl he loved and wronged, and offer her at last the tongue that cannot lie.

258 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published December 31, 1990

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About the author

Ellen Kushner

141 books549 followers
Ellen Kushner weaves together multiple careers as a writer, radio host, teacher, performer and public speaker.

A graduate of Barnard College, she also attended Bryn Mawr College, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She began her career in publishing as a fiction editor in New York City, but left to write her first novel Swordspoint, which has become a cult classic, hailed as the progenitor of the “mannerpunk” (or “Fantasy of Manners”) school of urban fantasy. Swordspoint was followed by Thomas the Rhymer (World Fantasy Award and the Mythopoeic Award), and two more novels in her “Riverside” series. In 2015, Thomas the Rhymer was published in the UK as part of the Gollancz “Fantasy Masterworks” line.

In addition, her short fiction appears regularly in numerous anthologies. Her stories have been translated into a wide variety of languages, including Japanese, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Latvian and Finnish.

Upon moving to Boston, she became a radio host for WGBH-FM. In 1996, she created Sound & Spirit, PRI’s award-winning national public radio series. With Ellen as host and writer, the program aired nationally until 2010; many of the original shows can now be heard archived online.

As a live stage performer, her solo spoken word works include Esther: the Feast of Masks, and The Golden Dreydl: a Klezmer ‘Nutcracker’ for Chanukah (with Shirim Klezmer Orchestra). In 2008, Vital Theatre commissioned her to script a full-scale theatrical version. The Klezmer Nutcracker played to sold-out audiences in New York City, with Kushner in the role of the magical Tante Miriam.

In 2012, Kushner entered the world of audiobooks, narrating and co-producing “illuminated” versions of all three of the “Riverside” novels with SueMedia Productions for Neil Gaiman Presents at Audible.com—and winning a 2013 Audie Award for Swordspoint.

Other recent projects include the urban fantasy anthology Welcome to Bordertown (co-edited with Holly Black), and The Witches of Lublin, a musical audio drama written with Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom (which one Gabriel, Gracie and Wilbur Awards in 2012). In 2015 she contributed to and oversaw the creation of the online Riverside series prequel Tremontaine for Serial Box with collaborators Joel Derfner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Racheline Maltese and Patty Bryant.

A dauntless traveler, Ellen Kushner has been a guest of honor at conventions all over the world. She regularly teaches writing at the prestigious Clarion Workshop and the Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Literature.

Ellen Kushner is a co-founder and past president of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, an organization supporting work that falls between genre categories. She lives in New York City with author and educator Delia Sherman, a lot of books, airplane and theater ticket stubs, and no cats whatsoever.

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5 stars
1,066 (29%)
4 stars
1,361 (37%)
3 stars
906 (25%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 249 reviews
Profile Image for Werner.
Author 3 books580 followers
November 2, 2018
This was a book I read sometime in the 90s (1995 is a rough guess), after getting it from the Science Fiction Book Club. It's a masterful re-telling of the Scottish folk legend of Thomas of Erceldoune, a 12th-century minstrel (who was apparently an actual person), who was said to have been abducted by the queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years, as the price of a kiss, and to have returned with the gift --or curse-- of never being able to say anything but the truth. The author's treatment is scrupulously faithful to the Middle English ballad version of the tale (which I'd read previously), but fleshes it out much more richly.

Kushner uses first person narrators for the four-part novel, each part narrated by a different human character (Thomas himself is one of the four). Each character, male and female, is delineated very realistically, coming alive for the reader, as does the Fairy Queen herself --granted, she represents a kind of being that doesn't actually exist, but you feel that if the fae were real, she's exactly the sort of person their queen might be. The author's knowledge of and feel for the period is obvious; she evokes medieval Scotland very effectively, and she clearly knows the legends and literature of that day (each part is introduced by period epigraphs). Her version of Elfland has a subtle tie-in to Arthurian legend, which I found a nice touch. She also doesn't censor the erotic elements in the old legends, in which the fairies were full-bodied beings who could be sexually attracted to humans, and vice versa (for instance, she interprets the "kiss" in the tale --probably correctly-- as a convenient shorthand for something more... involved); but she handles this quite tastefully, with nothing explicit.

Even though she's writing fantasy, and describing events that can't occur, Kushner writes in a way that's psychologically true, and that expresses real-world truths; she also evokes genuine caring for all of her important characters, and spins a bittersweet tale that conjures real emotional involvement. (It also doesn't hurt that, in my opinion, she's one of the best English-language stylists writing today, considered just in terms of her mastery of and treatment of language.) This novel earned the World Fantasy Award when it was published; and it couldn't receive any less than five stars from me.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,964 followers
November 22, 2019
There's a lot to be said about a fantasy that is written WELL. In fact, one can argue that it is the only thing worth aiming for.

With tons of writers touching on this and that in the realm of the Fae, of wandering minstrels, of friendship, love, and loss, you'd think there would never be a way to STAND OUT from that crowd.

And then, this late in my career of hunting down all the best books on the Fae, I run across Thomas the Rhymer. There are no tricks in this telling.

It is, above all, a crisp, clear story about a minstrel who gets spirited away to the land of the Sidhe to live and love for the Queen, only to find the world changed when he returns.

I've read really great books about the fae, before, of course, but most of them are rich with side stories or buried within much bigger tellings. This book is ONLY about this one thing. And Kushner dives deep into these clear waters, only to bring back up one of the most beautiful, clear pearls of a story.

If I had to recommend just one perfect example of a man getting kidnapped by fairies, then this would have to be it. It's as shiny and beautiful as a crystal goblet. Or the plucking of a genius upon her harp. :)
Profile Image for Minli.
359 reviews
December 22, 2009
Thomas the Rhymer is a worthy and beautiful novelization of the ballad, elegantly told from the perspective of four people--Gavin and Meg, the elderly couple who takes on Thomas as a surrogate son, bookend Thomas's own experience in Elfland, and the fourth by Thomas's mortal love, Elspeth, after he returns to the human world with his 'gift' of soothsaying. Kushner's language is so subtle, lyrical and magical, some passages near left me in tears. She has such a flair for words (and this book is all about that--the truth of words). I really admired the shifting perspectives, and how all four were needed as separate pieces of the puzzle to come together.

The reason why I remain conflicted over the book, is because it put me through every emotion a human could feel. I'm not sure I enjoyed that feeling at all, though it attests to its power. Some parts were funny, some were unbearably painful. It hurt. I felt Thomas's anger and loneliness, living his half-life in his servitude. (Might I also add, Kushner's language also extends to some very sexy passages, particularly because they are so restrained and perfectly worded, hoo.) Some bits I reveled in the normality of country life. I felt Elspeth's chapped hands and Meg's hearty food.

I can't help but come away from this book without seeing it as a tragedy. I can't see his time in Elfland except as a CURSE, shiny and glitzy, but otherwise detrimental to his humanity. I felt so much pain for Elspeth at the end, knowing he was gone, knowing he had loved others. I wanted more passion between them--I wanted it to prove that mortal love could be just as passionate as whatever Thomas had with the Elf Queen. Elspeth is certainly worthy, I loved their arguments at the beginning, but it felt like she got the short end of the stick in pretty much every way. Sigh. I also wanted more exploration of Thomas's soothsaying (and whether it was really a gift?).
9 reviews5 followers
May 1, 2011
This is my all time favorite book about Faerie. I've been reading about and studying Faerie since I was a small child. And I am an AVID reader. Ellen Kushner has done more to bring the world of the Fae alive than anything else I've ever read.

Critics of this book need to understand that Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Lin is a legend. It is what it is. For Kushner to have made him pleasing to all would have been to stray from the legend. For the book to have had a more climactic ending would have been to stray from the legend. It was a story of a Bard taken by the Faerie Queen because of his physical beauty and his musical talent - a story of his adventures in Faerie and his subsequent return to the real world. The man, though chauvanistic and skirt chasing to some, is a very apt description of what a handsome and talented wandering minstrel's life was probably like.

But, if you ever want to experience a peek into the enchanted world of the Fae and if you ever want to just get into a magical frame of mind, this is the book to read!

I am a Faerie artist and I re-read it from time to time because it inspires me. While there are many authors whose work I love, no other book takes me to the world of Faerie like this one. Kudos to Ellen Kushner!

Profile Image for Ieva.
1,017 reviews77 followers
November 13, 2022
Izrādās, ka šis ir kādas senas leģendas literārs pārstāts - nekad nebiju dzirdējusi oriģinālu, bet šis ir eleganti uzrakstīts. Man patika, ka stāts tiek pasniegts no 4 dažādiem skatupunktiem, tādejādi dodot dzīvīgumu un ticamību, bet vienlaicīgi izvairoties no pārliekas modernizācijas, tika saglabāta tādu vidusliacīga elpa. Tomass liekas tāds tipisks dziesminieks, elfu valsts kā pasakās (nevis Disneja, bet seno tautas nostāstu versijā) iepazīsta. Tiešām patīkama, maģiska lasāmviela.
Profile Image for Joseph.
681 reviews86 followers
August 13, 2015
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
May 23, 2011
I love novels like this; that flesh out a traditional tale while remaining true and faithful to the source material. (Like Robin McKinley's 'Beauty', Donna Jo Napoli's 'Zel', etc). This book retells the legend of Thomas the Rhymer, a minstrel taken under the hill for seven years of service to the faerie queen, who returns with the 'gift' of being unable to tell a lie. It brings to life Thomas and those who know and love him, letting a reader feel not that what they'd heard previously of the tale was wrong, but that they have been given a privileged glimpse of heretofore unknown details and truths of the past. It's not really an exciting or action-packed book, but it is a lovely and magical one.
Profile Image for Kyle Muntz.
Author 7 books114 followers
November 4, 2015
A really intetesting, extremely unusual novel. Its sort of an example of what fantasy might have been like if Tolkien had never existed, with a deeply character driven storyline and a setting very rooted in old England and its mythology, sort of like Spencer or something. its largely a down to earth, almost realist novel, interrupted by 100 pages of the strangest, most surreal storytelling I've seen in a while. (A friend of mine compared this section to the wizard knight by Gene Wolfe, and, for one of the first times ever, a comparison to Wolfe actually made sense.) its unbalanced in a way that maybe isn't productive, but driven by intensely powerful feeling and imagination. a weakness, though, is it starts slow, and took about 70 pages to really start working. but then, after an otherworldly, surreal hunt scene, interrupted by music and a riddle, a dove starts crying tears of blood, and you understand what makes this book so exceptional. i read all but ten pages of this on a cross-country flight and it was an intensely powerful experience, even if it was difficult to get into
275 reviews10 followers
October 17, 2020
In September, Ellen Kushner (who is a friend) gave a keynote speech for the launch of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for for Fantasy and the Fantastic. She spoke about this book, which I had not read since shortly after it was published in 1990, so I picked it up again. I’ve spent so much time with Kushner’s Riverside books that I had forgotten just how adept she is (and was 30 years ago) with the evocative language of high fantasy, the conjuring of mystical places and elves who are truly inhuman. When you combine this with her familiar skill at complex relationships and palpable atmosphere, you get a fine book indeed.

The book is in four sections: the first is told by Gavin, a crofter in the Scottish highlands, when he and his wife Meg first get to know Thomas, a harper, a traveler, and a womanizer. As in the ballad, Thomas then spends seven years “under the hill” as the consort of the Queen of Elfland, a section told from his viewpoint. When he returns, Gavin’s wife Meg takes up the story, and the final section (which I had completely forgotten) is narrated by the human woman he marries after his sojourn in Elfland.

Oddly, the only weak section of the book is the time in Elfland, which seemed to me to have a somewhat forced second plot—perhaps because nothing happens in Elfland unless the author makes it happen. Nonetheless, I was entranced by the language and delighted to re-meet the characters, and impressed once again with Kushner’s talent and her deep love of her subject matter.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,152 reviews62 followers
August 14, 2016
A sensually told tale of Thomas the Rhymer - pre, during and after his abduction by the Queen of Elfland, with whom he resides for seven years, returning with her 'gift' of a tongue that can tell no lies.

Fleshing out the myth and letting us get to know Thomas as he might have been before, with a tongue that flattered and lied easily, the first part of the book was the strongest for me. And while I enjoyed the plunge into Faerie, I found that Thomas's return and remaining life, as told by the girl he'd loved before the Faerie Queen, didn't quite live up to what preceded it. But still, this was a pleasant and dreamy read with which to happily while away a summer evening.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
March 19, 2011
It took me a while to get into this version of Thomas the Rhymer. The story is told in four voices: the voice of an old man who takes Thomas in almost as his own son, Gavin; the voice of Thomas himself; the voice of Gavin's wife, Meg; and the voice of the mortal woman who loves Thomas, Elspeth. The part in Gavin's voice didn't grip me so much, but when I came to Thomas's part, I could barely put the book down. It's not full of action, and Elspeth doesn't play a part in Thomas coming back from Faerieland. Instead, it's full of emotion, which builds right through the story until the final line -- so innocuous on its own -- makes my heart ache. Without saying any more about it, I love the end.

There are some beautiful passages in the book, and some smaller lovely stories -- the story of the dove, for one, and the story of Thomas' invisible servant, for another. And some of the characters are really wonderful, particularly saucy Elspeth.

It's an interesting take on the story of True Thomas, Thomas the Rhymer, and I'm glad I kept on with it, after not really getting into Gavin's part of the story. I thought it was rather magical, really.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
424 reviews7 followers
August 14, 2013
I'm maybe half-way through Thomas' interminable time with the Queen of the Elves, and I just can't force myself to read any further. I really can only echo others who say that the first section, Gavin's, was entrancing. The character himself was charming (if a bit of a female fantasy of what a good husband should be), his descriptions of the other characters make them come alive, and the action moves at just the right pace. Thomas, on the other hand is, as others have said, arrogant, smug, shallow, self-centered, self-absorbed and very much a Mary Sue -- I think I know where Rothfuss got his inspiration for the Lay of Felurian. The other characters in his section are simply two-dimensional objects that exist to reflect him, and the action, such as it is, is repetitive and boring. Nothing happens, and it takes a long, long time to do it.
It is entirely possible that Meg's and Elspeth's sections redeem the work, but at this point, I want nothing more to do with Thomas.
Count me among those who do not understand how or why this won the World Fantasy Award. It must have been a slow year.
Profile Image for Joy Pixley.
230 reviews
March 7, 2019
This is a gorgeous, multilayered literary fantasy disguised as a fun, engaging read: it works on any level. I fell in love with the characters and the setting, which were both painted so deeply and honestly that I was totally immersed. The legend of Thomas the Rhymer is mostly about his exciting trip to wondrous Elfland and the amazing prophecies Laird Thomas gives afterwards. Kushner includes all those elements, but her take focuses less on spectacle and more on Thomas' heart: his personal journey to find his own truth, his struggles with temptations and choice and with how to use his voice, and how this intertwines with his relationships with three very down-to-earth people. It's one of those books that I set down, think about, and then want to read all over again, to catch all those layers and foreshadowing that I only half-glimpsed the first time around. And really, just to be there again, in that magical world--not Elfland, but the humble village of Gavin and Meg and Elspeth, where people are loving and kind and forgive each other's faults.

Highly recommend to any fantasy lover.

Profile Image for Katya.
318 reviews26 followers
October 10, 2012
Another take on the legend of Thomas Learmounth. Beautiful language, absence of violence - these are the book's pluses. However, that is about it. The story itself lacks something very important - the point. I do not mean the point of the legend of True Thomas, but the point of this very book. Thomas lives here and then he lives there... so what? What was the point of his stay with the Elves? What did the riddle he had resolved while living among the Elves have in common with the rest of his life? In general, what was the whole book about? just retelling of the old legend? Why bother? The legend is still more beautiful.

There is no logic in main characters actions:they just act as the author tells them to - never mind the logic of their own! I am giving three stars just for the style, but it is difficult to believe that written with such a beautiful style the book lacks so much in the area of ideas...
Profile Image for THE BIBLIOPHILE (Rituranjan).
530 reviews78 followers
October 13, 2021
A beautiful rendition of the medieval Scottish folktale that has the echoes of the old ballads, tinged in delicate magic and filled with otherworldly wonder that glazes the life of poets and bards. It reminded me of Patricia McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, regarding its tone, the idyllic setting, along with the likable characters. This is a fairytale romance dipped in the everborn longing for beauty in the ephemeral human heart, a story of passion and desire that razes in the face of immutable mortality.

I loved it. The story is narrated from three perspectives, and Kushner's poetic touch adds a rustic charm to a tale that feels like we've listening to it since times past. It is like a melody that lingers long after the music has ended. At its core, this is a love story, a story about finding one's true self, and realizing the fact that all beautiful things end. There's some real pathos here, and mostly the ending which shows the deeper side of Elspeth who narrates a part of Thomas's story.

This is a perfect book to read in a pensive October afternoon, sitting on the porch, sipping a cup of warm coffee, and indulging in the tranquil mood of the fall. It will cling to your heart, make you smile and think about magic, of a land where it's spring eternal and filled with adventure, but will also make you sad, as the phantasmagoria that weaves before your eyes dissolves like a dream after you've finished the story.
Profile Image for kari.
608 reviews
August 29, 2017
What a quietly beautiful book. At a first glance, it's a small story - but it has such depth, such insight, it's so full of raw emotions and witty humour, it touches your heart and doesn't let go easily. If at all.
Profile Image for Dorothea.
227 reviews66 followers
July 26, 2016
I didn't expect the matter of this book -- a bard captured by Fairyland -- to be my cup of tea. I read enough about Fairyland in high school to last the rest of my life, and I tend to think of bardic protagonists as the fantasy genre's version of writer protagonists in literary fiction -- the exception to my rule of enjoying whenever someone writes a story about their own job.

However, perhaps because Ellen Kushner is a sort of bard herself, as well as a writer, I did like reading about the protagonist. And while I didn't like the protagonist very much when I first met him, I don't think I was supposed to; because this is a story about how he changes. How suitable that a beautiful man who can cause trouble and get himself out of it by his own eloquence (but who leaves others -- particularly, women who are susceptible to his beauty -- in trouble) should find himself in a situation where he's nearly powerless,

Part of what interests me is that what happens to Thomas is a way of thinking about rape. The story doesn't make it unquestionably clear that any rapes occur, but it is certainly about sex and power.

Disempowering someone in a way they haven't experienced before -- a simple way to change them. So Thomas is changed after seven years. I'm not sure it was even necessary to But then, as he hadn't lost any of his beauty or artistry, perhaps his vulnerability would have worn off soon enough otherwise.

I think what I loved most, in the later part of the book, was Elspeth pointing out what she had done for seven years. She too had been powerless in new ways, had suffered and striven and changed. But we the audience spent those years with Thomas, not Elspeth, because -- as she says -- her servitude, as a poor woman, a laborer and wife and mother, is too common to be made into a story or a song. Elspeth and I both are happy to hear all of Thomas's stories and songs. She wouldn't, and I don't, resent hearing about Thomas in fairyland instead of Elspeth on the ridge. But her bitter commentary gave Thomas the Rhymer an honesty it would otherwise have lacked.
Profile Image for Lisa Jensen.
Author 5 books194 followers
June 10, 2017
Ellen Kushner takes a traditional Scottish ballad and weaves it into something magical and beguiling in this lovely, haunting tale. The ballad sings of a minstrel lad abducted to Elfland for seven year's to serve as the Elf Queen's lover, then returned to the mortal world. A footloose and carefree young minstrel, Thomas gives himself up to the quicksilver Elf Queen and the succulent delights of her bower. Yet, he is tormented by her small, careless cruelties, by the elves' constant game-playing, and by his lonely isolation as a mortal in a magical realm.

While Thomas' Orpheus-like descent into the eerie glamor of the Elvish underworld is the centerpiece of the story, Kushner provides humanistic grace notes in the characters of a down-to-earth farm couple who love Thomas like a son, and a wild-spirited but careworn country lass who wins young Thomas' heart and witnesses the bittersweet epiphany of the story's conclusion. Both fairy tale and love story, full of lusty balladeering, poetry and heartbreak, this novel is truly enchanting. I felt bereft when it was over, as if the portals of Elfland had been shut behind me forever.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,214 reviews105 followers
November 25, 2013
More than enough has been written about bards and elves (although not as much back when this book was written). The two have always gone together. But this one does stand out. It's an odd book—there's very little in the way of actual plot. It's told in four parts, from four different perspectives. A bard befriends an old couple and falls in love, gets swept away to Elfland for seven years, comes home, and eventually grows old and dies. That's about it. There are no grand quests or major battles, no need to defend humanity or Elfland, no souls to be saved. To some extent, it's a book about how life changes us, and how hard it is to come home changed.

It's a lovely thing, though. Without any strong narrative propelling it forward, it has time to linger on subtleties of character. More like literary fiction than fantasy, in a way. And the lack of driving plot doesn't mean that it's pointless or boring—it's just a story about how to deal with getting your heart's desire. It's bittersweet and beautifully written.
Profile Image for Barbara Howe.
Author 6 books8 followers
November 24, 2018
Meh. Beautifully written and full of emotion, but the emotion never really touched me, probably because I didn't find the characters of either Thomas or the elf queen appealing. I didn't understand why the hunter posed his riddle to Thomas or what was at stake in the contest, so there was no sense of suspense there for me. What I really wanted to know was never answered. Disappointing.
Profile Image for Ygraine.
571 reviews
November 17, 2020
bittersweet has so many variations, a sort of beautiful melancholy or a softness settling over hard edges or a swelling hope after hurt -- this book feels like the purest, truest meaning of bittersweet i've found yet, rich & earthy in its bitterness and golden, peach-fuzzed, full in its sweetness. found myself in tears at the end, but v gentle, easy tears.
Profile Image for Tar Buendía.
1,244 reviews64 followers
September 12, 2022
Esto me ha costado sangre, sudor y lágrimas. El libro es maravilloso pero tiene un tipo de narrativa que a mí se me hace cuesta arriba de manera exagerada.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
359 reviews194 followers
November 5, 2018
Lovely but far too short, Thomas the Rhymer is a retelling of an old tale by the same name, which tells the story of a poet and harper who is by the Queen of Elfland to serve her for seven years and returns being unable to tell a lie.

What songs do you sing to them in Elfland? There, where all the songs are true, and all stories history...I have seen lovers walking in those glades, with gentle hands and shining faces, their feet light upon the grass, where little flowers shone in the shadows as though the lovers trod the starry firmament. And some I almost recognized: Niamh of the Shining Hair with Irish Oisian; Fair Aucassin with his gentle Nicolette; and two kingly men with their arms around one graceful, merry queen...other faces, other figures strangely arrayed, each one with their own story, no doubt, and now at peace, with all stories done.

The story is divided into four sections, each from the point of view of another character: Gavin, a farmer who gives Thomas shelter, Thomas himself, Gavin’s wife Meg, and Elspeth, a girl he loved. Thomas himself starts off as a bit of a frivolous womaniser (slightly reminiscent of Kvothe at points...), but grows up quite a bit over the course of the story. Fittingly, the writing style is poetic and lyrical and absolutely wonderful, and each character has their own distinguishable voice, though along with the POV split it does create a certain distance from the story. There are also many Scottish words scattered throughout the text (bonnie, bairn instead of child, weird meaning fate...), which gives it a nice atmosphere as well.

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable, a perfect short read for during a slump. The writing, my general weakness for atmospheric retellings and folktale-inspired stories, the large focus on everyday life, the insights into how he composes his poems, the bittersweet taste the ending left...wonderful. Still, I wish certain parts were expanded upon more and I’m not sure if the POV split worked for me. Perhaps I should have read on the original story/poem beforehand.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: fans of retellings, prose nerds
Not recommended to: those who hate it when parts of the story are glossed over, those who hate it when parts of the story are glossed over, anyone looking for fast-paced stories

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
462 reviews
October 23, 2014
Prose re-telling of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, a minstrel who was taken to Elfland by the Queen of the Elves and who stayed there for 7 years, returning with the gift of a tongue that never lied and became renowned as a prophet.

Engrossing enough but the game between the Queen and the Hunter which Thomas either provoked or was a pawn was very confusing. Yes, there was a need to show just how otherworldly and removed from humanity the concerns of the elves were but surely the author ought to have at least given us an idea of what precisely was at stake? The asking of the boon and the pouring of the cups on the floor were dramatic and all but what they actually signified was lost on me which was, in my opinion, a waste.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,029 reviews330 followers
June 9, 2010
This is an elegant and romantic retelling of the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, a harper who was taken by the Elven queen to spend seven years in Elfland and came out with the gift of telling only the truth. I was somewhat unsatisfied with the events of the novel, and with the character of Thomas himself, who was sufficiently self-centered that I had a hard time sympathizing with him, but the language was beautiful, as Kushner's always is, and it was overall a good read.
Profile Image for Olivia.
103 reviews1 follower
September 28, 2015
Broke me up in little pieces, a prickly mess on the floor. In good conscience, today I had to tell proselytizers that I didn't believe certain books were as true as they think they are, and then I finished this book realized I think it's more true than most of the capital T True books people believe in, though clearly nothing in this book is likely to have actually happened. I suppose. How's that for a no spoilers review? HA!
Profile Image for robyn.
417 reviews94 followers
January 2, 2023
generally crave something cosy and nostalgic in the hinterlands of winter between christmas & new years and there’s something about the worn-in rhythms of mythical fantasy like this that always scratches that exact itch. this hit all the notes i was expecting it to but with a sharper, more melancholic edge that surprised me & ultimately didn’t feel at all out of place - i liked it v much !
Profile Image for Alan.
451 reviews4 followers
December 29, 2022
Traditional, understated, very much of pure faerie and minstrels, court fools and fateful prophasies: a well-deserved World Fantasy Award winner. Just right for the holidays of early winter.
Profile Image for Marianne Moresco.
Author 1 book158 followers
October 21, 2022
A long dream you wake up from with a bittersweet taste in your mouth.
A tale that is both a fairy tale and a familiar one, of growth, of love, of loss.

An instant favourite.
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