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Riddle-Master #1

The Riddle-Master of Hed

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Long ago, the wizards had vanished from the world, and all knowledge was left hidden in riddles. Morgon, prince of the simple farmers of Hed, proved himself a master of such riddles when he staked his life to win a crown from the dead Lord of Aum. But now ancient, evil forces were threatening him. Shape changers began replacing friends until no man could be trusted. So Morgon was forced to flee to hostile kingdoms, seeking the High One who ruled from mysterious Erlenstar Mountain. Beside him went Deth, the High One's Harper. Ahead lay strange encounters and terrifying adventures. And with him always was the greatest of unsolved riddles; the nature of the three stars on his forehead that seemed to drive him toward his ultimate destiny.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1976

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About the author

Patricia A. McKillip

114 books2,465 followers
Patricia Anne McKillip was an American author of fantasy and science fiction novels, distinguished by lyrical, delicate prose and careful attention to detail and characterization. She is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award, and she lives in Oregon. Most of her recent novels have cover paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft. She is married to David Lunde, a poet.

According to Fantasy Book Review, Patricia McKillip grew up in Oregon, England, and Germany, and received a Bachelor of Arts (English) in 1971 and a Master of Arts in 1973 from San Jose State University.

McKillip's stories usually take place in a setting similar to the Middle Ages. There are forests, castles, and lords or kings, minstrels, tinkers and wizards. Her writing usually puts her characters in situations involving mysterious powers that they don't understand. Many of her characters aren't even sure of their own ancestry. Music often plays an important role. Love between family members is also important in McKillip's writing, although members of her families often disagree.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 591 reviews
Profile Image for Laura.
146 reviews8 followers
June 14, 2012
There's just something frustrating about this book.

It just doesn't quite seem to get where it's going.

The story starts out with this really run-of-the-mill prince. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it's not. He's ruler of this really simple, down-to-earth place called Hed and is just an incredibly unpretentious character. Despite being the prince, he ends up wrestling his brother in a mud puddle within just a handful of pages. It's hard to really get into the story at first, because although he seems like a nice guy and all, I just don't tend to care much about princes that roll around in mud puddles. Doesn't seem like a very interesting or important character, does he?

Of course, this is a fantasy novel, so we gradually come to understand that he is some unspeakably important person with a Destiny and all that. McKillip has created a world with a complex history, and she thankfully doesn't indulge herself in that hideously awful exposition where one character sits down and tells the other the entire history of the world as if they don't both already know. Instead she lets us piece together how the world works as we go along.

The problem is, the gradual unravelling of the background is perfectly paced.

Yes, problem. You see, there are really 2 unravellings going on at once: there is the reader coming to understand in bits and pieces the things that the characters already know about the rules of physics and magic that control this world, and how its history is interwoven with that. At the same time, the characters are gradually coming to understand this great mystery involving the main character's destiny- and part of that mystery means discovering that some of the things they thought they knew about their world aren't actually true.

You can see how this can get confusing.

So when I got to the (supposedly shocking) cliffhanger, it just sort of fell flat. I just don't understand enough about this world to really be affected the way the main character was. Or maybe I've just gotten too confused between the exposition and its revision. Or maybe I'm just a horribly unobservant, dumb reader and didn't get it, even though its obvious. (That one is less of a maybe.)

I've heard good things about this book, and author, and even better things about the rest of the series. So I will seek them out, and maybe reread this, and hopefully get less dumb about it. But for right now I'm still just a little underwhelmed. (Or maybe overwhelmed?) I reserve the right to come back and edit this review and rating when it all makes more sense to me.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books675 followers
July 24, 2020
This was very disappointing for me. I was expecting an epic sweeping quest with adventures and magic and destiny! And I guess it was there, but the writing quality was not what I would have expected, given the way people I trust have talked about this book. I think safe to say it does not hold up.

Things that were fun:

-All the fixin's. It's very classic epic fantasy with the chosen one and mysterious prophecies, god like figures, wizards and the rest.

-A few glimmers of hope. There were 2 spots I thought maybe the author was about to gather herself and the writing would level out. I look upon those islands of possibility fondly.

The rest:

-Nothing is earned. People just do shit for Morgon. Why? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Because? And then they're like well you're obviously goin' somewhere, so take all my stuff.

-We never see Morgon do anything. The cool stuff he's supposed to have done is all off screen, which is weird.

-The magic. *Cry* this was so bad. It was no good. She tried to explain it but it would have been better if it had just been "some people get to wave their hands and stuff happens" instead of the stumbling that we actually get. And, apparently it's really easy to learn and teach magic but no one does because...????

-Told not shown. So much of this.

-No respite or understanding. The only times we stop getting plot devices rained on us was for Morgon to whinge about how he was going to ignore his destiny and just go farm and no one could tell him he had to do this thing the gods basically told him he had to do. No character moments, no foreshadowing or time for tension to rebuild. And I kept expecting, what with all the things I'd been told, eventually I'd be able to understand the decisions people made and their significance, but up to the very end, I felt like I was listening to a story by a very enthusiastic and emotional tween: Eliard just hit me out of the blue and then I was late for a boat so I took my crown and went to the boat but I was like do I even WANT a girlfriend, I don't know, so anyway the boat got to my school and I was so mad because I should have been at work but...

But for like 200 something pages.

-The naming. This really bugged me. A lot of really short, ugly names and then several that might have been...Welsh? And several, despite the maiming of English sounds that had already occurred, were really similar sounding in a way that did not help me remember what was going on. I likened this to the "Brittany and Brittney" part of the tween rant.

In short, the characters were flat, the story was opaque, the craft was substandard and the writing tripped over itself more than it flowed.
Profile Image for Kaion.
501 reviews99 followers
December 7, 2009
Fantasy without any fantastic. 'Riddles' without any riddles! More accurately, what here is described as riddle-figuring is actually history/mythology research. But I guess that 'The Primary-and-Secondary-Document Seeker of Hed' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Characters should be great by what they do. I don't want to be told how clever and destined-for-great-things a character is- I want to be shown it without the bells and whistles. Unfortunately, only a bit more than nothing occurs here. Obviously the story is intended to be continued in further books, but I'm not sticking around to find out.

Which isn't to say research can't be interesting. It's just not this way full of cheap twists (amnesia!) that don't go anywhere and slow, ponderous meetings of your protypical boring caucasian male societies.

McKillip created a world of lyrically magic beauty and passionately motivated people in The Forgotten Beasts of Eld- and doesn't show any of that skill here.

White men forming societies to control the dispensation of knowledge- keeping it to their own and making it mystical and unusable. Why am I not surprised or interested? Unfinishable. Rating: 0.5/5 stars
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 6 books2,015 followers
January 22, 2019
2019 Review It's been a long time since I reread this. I have a lot of fond memories & found it quite good again, although I really like more realism in my novels now. This is an epic fantasy, quite lyrical in nature. It's more like a complex fairy tale & beautiful in that way. If you like that sort of thing, this is a 5 star read that I can't recommend highly enough.

Unfortunately, I seem to have become a grump. A farmer who has that much of a problem with death? Bacon doesn't grow at the store & butchering Snogg's pigs had to be a regular chore plus he hunted. Well, I guess the Quakers were similar. Still, it rankled.

The book ends on a cliff-hanger, a really big reveal that rocked me back on my heels, & then it ends. Ugh! MUST READ THE NEXT BOOK NOW! Thankfully, I have the full trilogy now. I didn't the first time through. Be warned. Get all 3 books before starting the first & read in order.

Original review from when I joined GR in 2007 I last read this book some time ago, but have reread it a couple of times. McKillip captured me with this book immediately because I just loved the hero. In the first few pages, she draws him so well & in such a novel way that just tickled me. plus... No, I won't put that here, even under a spoiler tag. Let's just say there is a LOT more to him than meets the eye at first, just as there is to the story.

And there are riddles. I don't particularly care for riddles, but they worked well here, as did the harps. Yeah, hackneyed harps in a S&S world, but the two together, along with a quest & love & destinies foretold in the stars (maybe, if things worked out) all came together under McKillip's beautiful writing to create a wonderful epic story, but be prepared to read the trilogy.

If I have any complaint at all with these books it's that they do NOT stand alone well at all. You need to read them in order & have the next one ready or you may just dissolve into a puddle of frustration. I almost did. I read the first one before I joined the Army & the second one sometime later, but I think I was married with children before I finally got a hold of the third one & got to figure out what happened. I don't recommend doing that if you can help it.
Profile Image for Garth.
211 reviews1 follower
March 21, 2013
This is the first book of a closely-connected trilogy; if you plan to read it, you may want to have the next book on hand. I read The Riddle-Master of Hed as part of the Riddle-Master: The Complete Trilogy omnibus.
Morgon is the land-ruler of Hed, a non-descript, undramatic, peaceful, and very agrarian island off the coast of a land with a vivid and mixed magical history. Morgon himself has had a few un-Hed-like adventures, having been educated as a Riddle-Master in the city of Caithnard, but since the death of his parents in a shipwreck he's settled down to oversee the farming and land of Hed. However, before doing so, he went on one last adventure, beat a ghost in a riddle game, and won a crown and the hand of a king's daughter in marriage. And now he has to decide what to do about it.

This book has the dubious non-distinction of being compared with Tolkien and the distinction of having that comparison feel apt in some less usual ways. McKillip captures in Hed a similar feel as the rural life of the Shire, and in Morgon's dislike of the adventures thrust upon him, she presents it as a stronger valid choice. So many fantasies hurry their young protagonists away from their humble roots, showing that magic is clearly the superior choice. Morgon doesn't follow that attitude. Using the land-rule, the basic structure of McKillip's world that gives the rightful ruler of a country a deep understanding of that country's needs and functioning, McKillip shows a more painful sundering from a life that the hero liked, for a journey through magic that's perilous, frustrating, and in many ways worse.

McKillip also plays with history, following Tolkien's strong sense of tradition but approaching it from a different angle. Tolkien's historical medium was mythology and story. McKillip's is closer to historical fact. Morgon, and indeed most people of importance in the world, are adept with riddles, but riddles in this book are less something one would expect from the sphynx and more like historical fact combined with a lesson. A typical riddle asks some question of history or deed of a famous (or forgotten ruler), the answer being the story, and the stricture being some lesson to take from that story. Knowledge of the world, its past, the places and meanings of the people in it, and the location and nature of lost knowledge is vitally important. Questions to which no answer is known are unanswered riddles, and unanswered riddles are inherently dangerous. For a fantasy, it's an atypical take on the quest for understanding of the world, more open to everyone in the world than the normal path of magical power.

There is magic, prophecy, and an unregarded young man from a backwater of the world who turns out to be an awaited person of great power, and at times, The Riddle-Master of Hed followed the standard script a bit too closely. There's just enough difference, though, to reward digging at the foundations and thinking about what McKillip has changed. For one, there's a lack of obvious evil and obvious good, even if the world seems full of that at the start. For another, there's a lot of nuance in the history and debate over the lessons to be drawn from it. As the story progresses and draws into question some of the foundations of the world, McKillip incorporates a canny sense of wrongness, a feeling that matters are quite a bit more complicated and difficult than it first appeared. The surface plot is a standard "collect the wise men" travelogue and suffers for it, but I kept coming back to and picking apart what lay underneath it.

Alas, the ending is just frustrating. It's a cliff-hanger that's worse than a cliff-hanger since the next book doesn't even pick up at the cliff. After delivering the climax that one knew was coming for much of the book, it offers no denouement or explanation whatsoever. I admire the audacity with which McKillip overturns some genre expectations, but there are good reasons for the normal dramatic structure. The book suffers from the excessively abrupt curtain. It helps some to have the next book on-hand and consider this more part one than a book in its own right, but even then, The Riddle-Master of Hed is better read for the feel of its world and for McKillip's effective descriptions than for its plot structure. An exceptional Fantasy genre first book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tijana.
732 reviews188 followers
May 23, 2018
Patriša Mekkilip (Mekilip? nikad nisam sigurna) je kod nas gotovo sasvim nepoznata, a to je baš šteta jer piše neverovatno i to na onom nivou koji je vrlo teško preneti ako se ograničavate na npr. prepričavanje radnje. Na nivou zapleta, naime, The Riddle-Master of Hed ne donosi gotovo ništa osim prežvakavanja Tolkina i Džozefa Kembela (i to, prirodno, samo negde do trećine-polovine monomita jer je ovo prvi deo trilogije): znate ono, dete iz provincije otkriva da je Oruđe Sudbine i tako to? Ključne tačke zapleta mogli biste da ubodete zatvorenih očiju.
Ali zato mogu s rukom na srcu reći da je na delu majstorsko ekonomisanje pripovedanjem, koje u nekim trenucima podseti na najšmekerskije momente lorda Dansejnija (cela ova trilogija zajedno, saopštavam s radošću, po obimu dobacuje taman do Imena vetra). I, što je još mnogo ređe, u stanju je da prenese osećaj čarolije i sna - ne u smislu da niže prideve i razbacuje se poređenjima s draguljima i uopšte purpurnom prozom, već tako da zaista, na trenutak, osetite stanje slično onoj izgubljenosti u snovima kad znate i razumete sve ali ništa od toga ne biste mogli da prenesete rečima (i zato, prepričani, tuđi snovi uglavnom deluju beskrajno dosadno).
Nemojte sad da očekujete da je cela knjiga takva, govorimo o dva-tri mesta, ali meni je to sasvim dovoljno da se odmah bacim na drugi deo :)
I da, ovaj prvi deo se završava brutalnim klifhengerom, apsolutno brutalnim, nemojte uzimati knjigu ako niste obezbedili nastavke.
Profile Image for Kristina.
1,202 reviews463 followers
July 17, 2020
There are books that I pull from my shelves to re-read every few years. They may be romantic thrillers or science-fiction or fantasy or classics. What they all have in common is superb story-telling, characters who are as familiar to me as friends and family, and worlds so detailed and engrossing that I am transported there as soon as I open the book. Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy are books that I have loved ever since I first read them. The world she creates is magical and complete and full of mysteries and riddles and I’m always in awe of how incredibly well-written they are. These books are, to me, the best that fantasy offers and should be considered classics of literature, regardless of genre. The first book, The Riddle-Master of Hed, is one I’ve read probably half a dozen times. But because it is so full of unknown magic and centuries-old riddles, I never remember the answers to all those riddles. As soon as I read the first sentence: “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,” I’m once again swept up into Morgon’s story and the mysteries surrounding him.

Morgon is the Prince of Hed, a small island of simple farmers. In a world haunted by unanswered riddles, restless wraiths and threatened by unnamed magic, Hed is considered safe and practical. However, Morgon is not a typical man of Hed. He is gifted in riddle-answering and attended the College of Riddle-Masters. When he wins the crown of a dead lord of Aum in a riddle-game, Morgon’s life changes forever. Determined to learn about his destiny, Morgan, accompanied by Deth, the High One’s harpist, travels across the lands to Erlenstar Mountain to confront the High One. Along the way, Morgon’s life is threated by shape changers, powerful creatures from the sea, who don’t want him to seek the answers to his riddles.

No matter how I try to explain the plot of this book, I will not be able to do it justice. It is, essentially, the story of a man traveling through a country seeking answers to questions and trying to find his identity and place in the world. But that sounds so boring. Morgon has three stars on his forehead and no one knows why. He would rather ignore them and spend his life in Hed, being a farmer. However, once he won the crown from Peven, he fulfilled a vow made by Mathom, the King of An. Mathom vowed to marry his daughter, Raederle, to the man who took the crown of Aum from Peven. Before Morgon can marry Raederle, the second most beautiful woman in the three portions of An (An, Aum, and Hel), he must travel to Caithnard, to the College of Riddle-Masters, where Rood, Raederle’s brother, is an apprentice. What happens after Morgon sees Rood sets Morgon on his path towards Erlenstar Mountain where he will demand answers from the High One.

This book is so well-written that every sentence is evocative of a magic-infused world. When Morgon finds himself on the Wind Plain, living for a while with Astrid, a banished lord of Ymris, Astrid is attacked by a shape-shifter. This is how he describes what the shape-shifter looked like: “He was shaped out of seaweed and foam and wet pearl, and the sword was of darkness and silver water. It bit me and flew away like a bird” (47). I never noticed this before, but there is a lot of bird imagery in this book (and probably in the other two). It’s not distracting because it’s so well done, but it is interesting because weapons are shaped out of birds, and people often take bird form when dying or fleeing from danger. Here is another use of bird imagery; Morgon and Deth are taking refuge from their travels with the Morgol of Herun when a harpist of the ancient and powerful shape changers visits Morgon and plays for him (and tries to kill him): “The harping wove through him like a net, the slow, deep beat measured to the sluggish, jarring beat of his blood, the swift, wild high notes ripping at the fabric of his thoughts like tiny, panicked birds. He tried to move but something weighted on his hands, his chest. He opened his mouth to call for Deth; the sound that came out of him was again the squawk of the black crow” (116).

Later, Deth names this harpist as Corrig and shares with Morgon a time when they harped together: “He came into the circle of my firelight, glistening with tide, his harp of shell and bone and mother of pearl, and demanded songs of me. I played as well for him as for the kings I had played to; I dared not do less. He gave me songs in return; he stayed with me until dawn, until the sun rose, and his song as the red northern sun flamed across the sea burned in my heart for days after I heard it. He melted like mist into the morning sea-mist, but first he gave me his name. He asked for mine. I told him, and he laughed” (125).

The imagery in this book is very evocative of the kind of magical world these characters inhabit. McKillip expertly describes every day scenes of traders and their goods, ships at sea, and their food and music. Magic is a fact of life and infuses everything—from the roots in the ground to the wind in the air. Her descriptions of even the smallest events make the characters come alive for me. Although Raederle is not present in this novel, she is mentioned quite a bit and it’s due to scenes like this that we get to know her: “He [Morgon] had raced her up the hill to the College once, years ago, she in a long, green dress she had hiked to her knees to run in. He had let her win, and, at the top, happy, panting, she had mocked his courtesy. Rood came behind them with a handful of jeweled pins that had fallen out of her hair; he tossed them to her; they caught the light like a swarm of strange, glittering insects, scarlet, green, amber, purple. Too tired to catch them, she had let them fall around her, laughing, her red hair massed like a mane in the wind” (137).

Two of my favorite scenes in the book involve shape-changing. Morgon travels to Osterland and learns to change into a vesta (sort of like a large deer/elk) and runs with herds of them while searching for the wizard Suth. My other favorite is Morgon learning to become a tree in the mountain-land of Isig: “Listening, he heard suddenly the hum of their veins, drawing life from deep beneath the snow, beneath the hard earth. He felt himself rooted, locked into the rhythms of the mountain; his own rhythms drained away from him, lost beyond memory in the silence that shaped him. Wordless knowledge moved through him, of slow measureless age, of fierce winds borne beyond breaking point, of seasons beginning, ending, of a patient, unhurried waiting for something that lay deeper than roots, that lay sleeping in the earth deeper than the core of Isig, something on the verge of waking…” (209). I really like the idea of being able to change into a vesta and a tree, and I love the descriptions of Morgon doing so.

The Riddle-Master of Hed is an amazing book. Every time I read it, I find something different to love and discover new depths to the story. This is a fantasy novel that deals with magic and wizards, but it’s not really about who is the best wizard and has the most power. It’s more about knowing yourself and not being afraid to take charge of your own destiny. It’s one of my absolute favorite books of all time.
Profile Image for Theo Logos.
587 reviews88 followers
November 11, 2016
No Mr. Wolfe, you CAN go home again.
(Well, at least sometimes.)
I first read The Riddle Master of Hed in 1978. I was 14 years old, had read The Lord of the Rings the same year, and at the time, consider them pretty much on par. Riddle Master captured me with the same sense of unfolding wonder of a world with a deep history, more than half lost in mystery, that unfolded slowly as a crucial element of the ongoing story. Fourteen year old me immediately placed The Riddle Master trilogy among the classics.
Years pasted, and I went gray. I noticed that the Riddle Master trilogy was rarely included in the "must read" lists that are periodically created to educate on the classics of the fantasy/scifi/speculative fiction genre. Perhaps 14 year old me simply lacked the refined literary palate to separate the dross from the gold? A re-read was in order.
So last night I finished reading The Riddle Master of Hed, nearly four decades after my first experience of it. I am pleased to report that my fourteen year old self had good taste. It does in ways resemble Tolkien; the tropes are there - a reluctant, unlikely hero, a creeping menace, a quest at the end of an Age - but it doesn't feel derivative. Rather, the two works resemble each other as Welsh mythology resembles Norse mythology. The beauty of this book is that it fires the imagination with a sense of wonder in precisely the way our oldest cultural mythologies do.
Indeed, my mention of Welsh mythology above was more than a random reference. What I caught on this reading that I lacked the knowledge to notice on my first time through was how much Riddle Master resembles the Welsh myths of the Mabinogion. There are no direct parallels between the stories, but both convey the same feel, of a world where the miraculous and the mundane exist side by side as a matter of accepted course, where music, knowledge, and craftsmanship are the conduits of magic, and the lords of the land are tied to it in both mystical and physical ways. Even the naming in the book smacks of a strong Welsh influence. Both for these reasons, and because of her lyrical, dream like style, McKillip's Riddle Master is probably closer to Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion Tetralogy than any other works in the fantasy genre.
What have I learned from this re-reading? I had literary discernment as a young teen. Patricia McKillip was strongly influenced by Welsh mythology. If I ever create a "must read" fantasy genre list, The Riddle Master trilogy will be on it. And yes, in some sweet, rare, treasured instances, you can go home again.
Profile Image for Othy.
278 reviews21 followers
August 22, 2011
A very impressive novel. McKillip is both an impressive storyteller and author, showing her intricate skill in this the first part of the Riddlemaster Trilogy. Mysterious, at times chilling, and with fascinating characters, "The Riddlemaster of Hed" reminds me of Le Guin and, to some extent Tolkien, authors who I believe to be masters of fantasy literature. McKillip's descriptions and dialogue are very well constructed, pulling the reader (or at least me) in to read quickly yet also deeply. At times, McKillip's mystery seems to take her herself, causing her narration to fall into something of a poetic form. This can be her most beautiful writing, though sometimes words are left out and make the writing jarring or confusing. Frequently (in this form) she leaves out certain words, usually grammatical joiners such as "and," though at other times she seems to fall away from complete thoughts, adding to the mystery of her writing while unfortunately also adding a little bit of confusion. This, though, is a nit-picky detail, but something that I noticed and that sometimes took me out of the flow of the narration.

A gorgeous read, and something I look forward to going through again (when I finish the trilogy). If you're a fantasy fan, read McKillip. She's among the authors who, through all the attempts, really gets at what fantasy literature should be.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 56 books733 followers
May 27, 2022
Re-read 5/25/22: On learning of Patricia McKillip's death, I came back to this series with a lot more introspection than I did ten years ago, on my last re-read. So I want to delve a little into history before I get down to my review.

This was the first fantasy series I discovered on my own. My best friend got into fantasy when we were 12 or 13, I think, and she fed me all sorts of recommendations: Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Steven Brust. But this one was mine. And it was in the children's section.

Now, for those of you younger than 40, let me explain something about literary history you may not be aware of. Before about 1990 (this is a guess based on observation; I am not a scholar of YA history, just an interested bystander) there was no such thing as young adult fiction. It existed, yes, but it was all lumped in together with middle grade and called, universally, "children's lit." So when I was a young teen living in Liverpool, NY, the children's section--the Liverpool Public Library was actually famous for its children's section--contained anything from Beverly Cleary to Cynthia Voigt in terms of age of protagonist and seriousness of plot. And for some reason, Patricia McKillip's early books were all shelved there.

I have no idea, after re-reading this book, why anyone would consider this a good idea. Yes, teens can read it, it's not like it's inappropriate or too hard or anything like that, but it is incredibly dense and description-heavy and its plot is complex. Morgon may be a teenager, though I doubt it, but his problems are all those of an adult. But, as I said, I'm not a literary historian, and I'm sure there were reasons that went into that decision. I just have this suspicion that they weren't good ones. (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was also there, and that makes even less sense.)

Anyway, enough history. The plain fact is that this series shaped everything about the reader and writer I became. It was stunning to come across grammatical constructions I use myself--that is the kind of influence McKillip was on me, that more than thirty-five years later I am still echoing her words. I remember now how much of them I skimmed on my first reading, being rather impatient at 13, and how every subsequent reading took me deeper. I also remember not understanding the significance of the ending the first time, probably because I wasn't very careful, and how the horror of became increasingly horrifying with every re-read.

I also recognized this time that Morgon's constant refusal of the call to his destiny works and is not annoying because it is not what my husband refers to as negative motivation, or in other words a refusal to act, a deliberate No with no Yes to replace it. Morgon has something he wants very much, to remain who he has been all his life, a Prince of Hed dedicated to peace, and everything that happens to him drags him away from that.

I met Patricia McKillip in 1993 or 1994, when she was guest of honor at a local convention, and because I was involved with the con committee I got to take her to lunch. I have little memory of that, because I'm sure I babbled, except that she was very gracious--but what do you say to someone whose books were so profoundly influential to you? We exchanged a few letters until my sense of total embarrassment at annoying her (which I'm sure I wasn't) caused me to stop, and I regret that. But I am always grateful I had the chance to tell her in person how much I loved her books.

Read 6/17/12: So here's the weird thing I realized on this I-don't-know-how-many-times re-read. At heart, this is a story about a young farmer with a weird birthmark who's destined for greatness. And I never figured it out until now. Patricia McKillip loves words, loves how they shape a story, and while this kind of tale probably wasn't a cliche back in 1976, she didn't take the easy route. One of my favorite scenes is at the very beginning, where our hero Morgon is hungover and arguing with his brother, his sister, his farmers, like he's anyone but a land-ruler. In this series, princes and kings have responsibilities and respect but not reverence; their right to rule comes from being bound to their lands. While my rating comes mostly from having read the series when I was first discovering fantasy, I also admire how it fits into early fantasy fiction.
Profile Image for Eva.
175 reviews101 followers
December 16, 2021
So glad I re-discovered this childhood favorite: I had completely forgotten I'd read it, but it burrowed itself deep into my subconscious imagery and reading it again made me realize where all those images and ideas came from. It's McKillip's debut and has a few tiny flaws, but overall it's just such a magical, mysterious tale - and the cliffhanger ending means I definitely need to continue the trilogy soon! Favorite aspect: how caring the characters are, there's just so much love in this book.

The pros and cons:
✅ Fantasy classic with timeless appeal
✅ Beautiful and mysterious world full of history, lyrically described
✅ Trekking through nature, wonderful for nature-lovers
✅ Gentle, mostly pacifist harpist as a hero, great secondary characters
✅ Makes you dream and wonder
🆗 "Riddles" aren't normal riddles, but mysteries with lessons attached that you can memorize
🆗 Dream-like, not "gritty"
🆗 Cliff-hanger ending
🆘 Often very confusing, don't expect to understand what's going on
Profile Image for Violinknitter.
470 reviews17 followers
February 9, 2019
I love this trilogy far beyond reason, so I won't try to give a reasoned review. I will give a few words of advice, though. The first book is in no way a stand-alone story. The trilogy only makes sense if you read the entire trilogy... much more like a book of the Lord of the Rings than a Harry Potter book that can be enjoyed on its own terms apart from the rest of the series. Secondly, there is a major shift in viewpoint between the first & second books of the trilogy, so don't expect Morgan of Hed to show up in the first few pages of HEIR... he doesn't.

McKillip is not for everyone. Reading a McKillip novel is often like visiting a foreign country: your guide may explain parts of the culture & language to you, but there will be much swirling around you that you do not understand and that no one will explain to you. Personally I love that in a book. I love to feel there is much more to the world and the story than I am being told. But not every reader enjoys the experience of *not* having everything explained and clearly laid out. If you like to have all the answers by the end of the book, McKillip may not be the fantasy writer for you. (Her language, though!!!! Oh, my goodness, her prose is some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read.)

Profile Image for Michelle.
395 reviews15 followers
October 2, 2022
Book 1 of 3. Another re-read, but it's for a good cause :). I'm reading this along with one of my groups.

This book is hard to describe, although I've always liked it. Patricia McKillip had a certain style that appeals to me. She tended to have a lot of beautiful imagery, while at the same time things can be a little confusing. One has to pay attention with her books because she would toss in seemingly random or inconsequential things, but later on they make sense.

This is a type of quest tale, but the quest is definitely not accomplished in a linear fashion. The MC, Morgon, is just as confused by events as the reader. He is the titular Riddle-Master, and it's a good thing since his life has become one big ol' riddle! He sets out for one purpose but is derailed and taken in many different directions. Along the way he meets many interesting people, some good and some decidedly not. He also can make some smack-the-forehead stupid mistakes, but he's a really likeable fellow.

I feel that it's my duty to warn potential readers that the ending is a cliffhanger. If you've bought the trilogy in the omnibus then this isn't a deal breaker. If you only have book one in your possession, it might cause a problem!
Profile Image for Daniel.
77 reviews11 followers
April 16, 2022
کتابی نیست که به همه پیشنهاد کنم
ولی اگر دنبال کتابی میگردید که بعد چندتا مطالعه سنگین و وقت گیر مناسب باشه کتاب خوبیه و من هم به نسبت این موضوع سه ستاره دادم بهش و اگر بخوام نسبت به کتاب های فانتزیی که خوندم امتیاز بدم بنظرم ۲ مناسبشه

کتاب خب حجم کمی داره (۲۴۰ صفحه نسخه انگلیسی) توی این حجم کم چندین سال میگذره و شخصیت اصلی به جاهای مختلف سفر میکنه

نمیدونم بخاطر ترجمه بود و یا کلا قلم نویسنده به این صورت بود ولی احساس خامی در قلم نویسنده رو کاملا حس میکنید

شخصیت های زیادی داره داستان و در کمال تعجب توی این حجم اسم ها رو قاطی نکردم🤔

گفتگوهایی که بین اشخاص ردوبدل میشه به شدت صاف و سرراسته انگار مدام شخصیت های میدونند طذف مقابلشون چی. میخواد و توی بحث ها بدون هیچ موضوعی حرف همو قبول میکنند

درکل تجربه بدی نبود ولی عالی هم نبود اگر خواستید بخونید بیشتر یه چشم یه کتاب برای زنگ تفریح بین کتاب های سنگینتون بهش نگاه کنید

Profile Image for Mark.
728 reviews56 followers
April 29, 2008
A lovely trilogy that somehow manages to balance an epic scope while being focused on just two people trying to figure out who they are. This first book is about Morgon, a farmer with a knack for answering riddles (a bit more like Zen koans) who was born with three stars on his head.

Yes, this is the "Chosen One of the Ancient Prophecy" trope that I hate so much. I think there are a number of reasons it works for me here. First, there isn't a concrete prophecy looming over each action. Morgon doesn't know who/what he is supposed to be, and no one else does either. Second, he is very reluctant about seeking his destiny, honestly preferring to remain the leader of a small farming community rather than going off and likely getting himself killed. And in this first book he is nearly powerless -- I had a real sense that he could be killed. Third, he isn't an annoying brat that everybody falls over themselves to help out for no reason (I'm looking at you, Golden Compass). He doesn't accumulate a Fellowship of The Riddle to follow him around. The lords of the realm are pleasant to him, but the only time he gets so much as an escort it is to forcibly bring him to a place he doesn't want to go. To summarize I would say that Mr. Deus Ex Machina keeps his chariot off stage for the vast majority of the book.
Profile Image for Kavita.
752 reviews361 followers
March 24, 2018
Morgon of Hed rules his small kingdom. But it's nothing fancy and Morgon even has to help his subjects mend their roofs. He's more of a village chief than a king, really. But he has one thing going for him - he is a whiz at solving riddles. This is how he defeated the ghost king of Aum and got away with his life. Morgan has a destiny - three stars on his forehead proclaim it to everyone. The question is - would he accept it or not?

This is the gist of the story here. Is Morgan going to go forward or is he going back to Hed? Shapeshifters try to kill him, Morgan learns a new skill, and then moans about his destiny, refuses to go on, goes on, wash, rinse, repeat. Things get tiring after a while. He is not a character I warmed to in any way. I didn't care if he lived or died and that's no way to write a main character in a fantasy story!

Morgon also talks too much, as do everyone else. There is too much discussion about how things are and very little action. Things go nowhere and after a while, I just got insanely bored. The first hundred pages are a big yawnfest. However, the book began to get interesting at the end and the world shows a lot of promise. So I am a little torn on whether to continue with the next book in the series or not. Maybe I'll just dither like Morgon and then probably do it anyway!
Profile Image for Greymalkin.
1,214 reviews
February 9, 2010
Lovely language and delicate mythos but I just couldn't get over the riddles that weren't riddles. The wordplay was too much for me and although it is a slim book, it felt much longer because the main character kept dragging his heels and complaining through the whole book. It had a feeling a bit like Taran Wanderer (which I love) so I can see why people would love this but it wasn't for me, alas!
Profile Image for Jenny.
888 reviews87 followers
August 16, 2016
This book surprised me. I found it in the local used bookstore, and I liked the cover and the title, but I put off reading it because I didn't know if it would be compelling enough. Well, I was captivated right away by McKillip's writing style and by her protagonist, Morgon. Then, the story line drew me in. The plot is so mysterious: who is Morgon? why does he have three stars on his forehead? why do so many people want to kill him?
Answers and partial answers are revealed slowly, but the action is steady, and the prose is lovely throughout. There are still many unanswered riddles, and although Morgon learned in Caithnard to "beware the unanswered riddle," I don't fear diving into the second book. I want to know what happens, and as far as I can tell, the stricture of the accumulated riddles in the first book is: "If you're interested enough to wonder, always read the second book."
Profile Image for Josh Angel.
362 reviews25 followers
January 26, 2022
A tragically underrated series I rarely ever hear anyone talking about.

The authors prose is lovely while still being utilitarian, much like Ursula K Le Guin’s, though I never hear the same praises heaped upon this author. Other authors like Guy Gavrial Kay can tend towards “purple prose”, but this author captures the same lyrical sense of language while never becoming self indulgent.

I originally read this trilogy as a teen, and remembered very little of the plot, so it was as if I’d never read them… with the exception of the memory of how they made me feel. I remember these having a haunting quality, and this reread has lived up to that memory. This world of riddles and shapeshifters has a dreamlike quality that I am quite enamored with. I’m glad that it did not disappoint the high expectations my vague teenage memories had set for it.

Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Olivia.
310 reviews67 followers
October 11, 2022
I could not for the life of me give you an intelligent synopsis of this book. I know there's a king and he has two siblings and then he leaves because he took a crown from a ghost and then he capsizes from a boat that I didn't know he was on and then he goes on a Quest™ and finds out that he's The Chosen One™ and he doesn't want to be The Chosen One™ and everyone is very agitated about Stars™ and Riddles™ but there aren't in fact many Stars™ or Riddles™ actually happening and then there's a series of what I can best describe as drug trips and then it all ends in a way that seems like it would be significant if I actually knew what was going on. The only reason I give it an extra star is that I'm willing to believe there's a coherent plot in here somewhere and I simply wasn't paying enough attention to follow it.
Author 1 book24 followers
March 12, 2017
Repetitive and painful to read. I do not like the writing style at all. Every time Morgon goes to sleep, someone tries to kill him. Every single time. If it gets dark or someone yawns or they've been traveling a long time and someone says they should rest, you immediately know someone is about to try to kill Morgon -- again. In pretty much the same way, because it's always this shape-shifting creature. I'm less than half way through the book even though I've been trying to read it for months, and he's already been almost killed in his sleep at least five times. The conversations have been about 90% identical. Every time Morgon almost dies, he says he's going to go home, he doesn't want this name or this destiny, he'll be safe if he just goes home, he doesn't care if he isn't safe, as long as he's home, blahblahblah. Every time someone mentions a riddle, one of Morgon's friends says his life could depend on answering the riddle about the stars on his face, and he responds meh, answering riddles was fun for awhile, but I don't feel like answering that one. And Deth and Morgon talk constantly about how cool their harps are. The names are unoriginal -- really? Deth? Hel? An of Awn? -- and half the names of the cities are too similar -- Heth? Hel? Hed? No matter how many times people compare this book to LOTR, it will never strike me as LOTR-esque. The only things LOTR-esque about it is the author's apparent love of unpronounceable names, having people randomly start singing poems, and never staying in one place longer than a minute. No, I take that back -- Tolkien uses less unpronounceable names, because Tolkien actually wants to keep the attention of his readers. The author doesn't explain anything to you; the characters just start talking about random stuff that makes no sense until you read it five times because they know what's going on and you don't, and a good book should require you to read the same passage over and over for it to actually make sense. Stephen R. Donaldson's review on the back of the book, "There are no better writers than Patricia A McKillip," is not only laughable, but an insult to a lot of authors. Ray Bradbury. Louisa May Alcott. Michael Ende. Elizabeth Gaskell. William Pierre du Bois. People who didn't just have an idea for a story, but knew how to draw their reader into it, and didn't keep throwing them out again by putting more focus on the names than the story or by making them re-read whole chapters to have any idea what's going on. I'm 112 pages into the first book, and it stopped going anywhere about 100 pages ago.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book133 followers
June 13, 2019
“When you open your minds and hands and heart to the knowing of a thing, there is no room in you for fear.”

Sorry I missed this when first published in 1974. Better than most post-LOTR imitators. McKillip may feel that she’s surpassed this earlier effort, but this is a deeper, more satisfying tale than many more famous competitors, which admittedly is a low bar.

“Truth,” the Master Ohm murmured, “needs no apology.”

It took the entire book to get the protagonist interested in his quest, along the way he discovers that everything he thought he knew—and he was a master riddler—about almost everything, was wrong.

“I have lived a thousand years, and I can recognize the smell of doom.”

Quibbles? Lots, but none that diminish the enjoyment of the text. Go with the admittedly shallow flow.

“I’m also wondering why the High One has never acted.” “Perhaps because his business is the land, not the school of wizards of Lungold. Perhaps he has already begun to act in ways you do not recognize.”
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,782 followers
November 26, 2009
See my review of the omnibus volume. I stumbled over this book back in '77 or '78 and then had to wait till I could find the next volume. Very frustrating. A good series, I find the first volume to be the best of the 3 though I've read reviews of those who disagree.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,931 followers
February 24, 2017
I picked this one up as part of my reading project for this year. I'm really trying to read more books written by ladies pre-2000 in SFF. This definitely fit the bill, but unfortunately it didn't grip me anywhere near as much as I had hoped for...

This tells the story of Morgon, Prince of Hed, who manages to unravel a riddle and earn himself notoriety and magical propechy. Morgon never really knew what he was getting by completing the Riddle, but let's just say it becomes something much much greater than a young farm-based Prince could ever have dreamed.

What I liked about this book were the hints of magic we saw. All the way through we hear about this magic that is used by the various land-rulers to really 'feel' all of their lands. The idea that the rulers were in tune with the magic of their domain was something I loved to imagine, but even though it sounds cool I am not sure it was fully developed, and I feel that way about most of the magic within this series.

I also really enjoyed the concepts of Harps, History and Shapechangers. We see a lot of myth and legend woven into the quest that Morgon finds himself on, and along the way we discover a significance to the stars on a harp that match the stars on Morgon. This music/nature-based magic was definitely whimsical and lyrical and I could imagine it being wonderful...but again, it wasn't ever really described as well as I wanted it to be.

As I said I also really liked the Shapechangers, this is fairly easy to guess from the name but unlike the Witches of this world the Shapechangers are able to shift form into all sorts of living things including various animals and trees/plants. This is definitely utilised at various points in the story to great effect, and I felt like this magic element was probably the one best described and portrayed in the book.

What I had problems with were the tiring, drawn-out descriptions of travelling. Some of the scenes within this book just felt too long for my liking and although things do happen on the way, I just never felt like I connected with or sympathised with Morgon himself. I think the writing style of this book definitely has some lovely moments, but I just couldn't get past the moments and get immersed in the book as a whole.

In the end I gave this on 2*s overall becuase it's not a bad book, but it was just an okay read for me. I felt like there was a lot of convenient/predictable stuff happening with the plot, and I also wish it had been a bit more emotional rather than long-winded, but there was potential here...
Profile Image for Dana.
17 reviews
August 11, 2013
Didn't finish.

In the first chapter, Main Character (MC) and his siblings have a fight in front of their subjects involving a rose bush and a poured bucket of sour milk. The siblings are angry because MC went on a riddle quest and won the quest by asking, "What was the monster that knocked on a door, that one time?" This is not a riddle, but anyway. Then MC buys a harp and goes on a ship back to visit the college he attended, so he can tell the brother of his future bride that he is the one who will marry her.

In the second chapter, MC and the brother get into a fight because MC refuses to accept robes of a riddle master, and brother doesn't want MC to accept the robes of the riddle master, so brother takes off all of his clothes in protest at their apparent agreement and stomps away, presumably in only his underwear. Then MC gets on a boat.

In the third chapter, there is a storm, and MC ends up on a beach with amnesia with an albino companion and his giant cat friend. Albino believes that the princess of the island is not actually the princess, but a daemon, because he saw a bird die on a cliff one day when he was hiking with her ... ? They go on archeological digs in an abandoned town and MC, by the way, can't speak, but only write things down. And then, MC gets his memory back suddenly when he walks up to a harp that no one could play, and he plays it. So he decides to get on a boat again because now there's a war on, you know.

This is when I stopped reading.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews72 followers
March 2, 2020
Storyline: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 4/5

The Riddle-Master of Hed was published a little late for getting away with the hurried pacing and thin characterization, but some of the components here are just so rich to give excuse to the many deviations from Great Book demands. It is easy to see how this would be a classic. It has several hallmarks of an epic: the eye-opening personal evolution, the quest, the introductions to powerful objects and great events. McKlllip adds to that base an enigmatic world with questions unanswered. Generally, this is a bonus, giving a dose of mystique to what is otherwise an episodic adventure tale. In some places it does hamper the world and characters, as it is never clear that what is extraordinary to the reader is anything but ordinary to book characters. Ultimately what makes this a standout is the profession of the Riddle-Masters and the art involved with the harp. The former is simply excellent fantasy worldbuilding, changing the way readers think about matters that others coast through without thought. The latter binds artistry and wonder together in a way that gave an added flair to the tale. There are modern fantasies that are so much better at writing; they understand pacing, characterization, and plotting. But not all authors, present or past, manage the idea. Whenever someone does, as McKillip here, it is worth stopping and noticing.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,293 reviews29 followers
September 25, 2019
Good story, quite imaginative. I read it a second time, the entire trilogy, and liked it much more. The first time through, I didn't read it, I only listened to it. I lost a lot that way, including some nuance and details on the complexities of this plot. The story gradually pulled on my heartstrings, especially through the complex characterization of Deth, the harpist.

Simon Prebble is a fine narrator, but he didn't add anything to this story. He didn't differentiate between characters enough so I couldn't be certain who was speaking.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,354 reviews176 followers
April 10, 2019
Most of this book was Morgon begrudgingly or outright telling prophecies and such to go fuck themselves. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with riddles about his fate. Man, I really felt for him. All he wanted was to go home to be with his siblings, but instead he's roped into a huge adventure that makes him question everything he thinks he knows about himself.

See Morgon was born with three stars on his head. And these three stars keep showing up in un-answerable riddles. So Morgon goes off to find the High One, accompanied by Deth. For most of their journey, I was uninterested. It wasn't until Morgon visits some shape shifters that my interest peaked. The ending felt like it was supposed to be this big twist, but overall, I felt very underwhelmed by it.
Profile Image for Maggie K.
465 reviews121 followers
April 21, 2021
It took me FOREVER to read this book....I would read a little, get to something happening where I wasnt sure about the WHY?, and give it up for a bit.

The writing is good, I just had a lot of questions over what the main character is doing and why....ALthough he is supposed to be a prince of a simple farming community, he keeps taking off on impetuous travels. He wins a crown through a bet, that also gives him the Kings daughter as his wife (a woman he really admirers), he feels he has to go off and speak to the high king, I am not sure why. This starts one of those fantasy-trope quests, except that during which two different times he spontaneously decides just to go back home (/) and then almost as easily decides he must finish what he started. For some reason, his travels seem to land him on the doorstep of every other king in the country, and they all do really wonderful things to help him. But Why? I think he is supposed to be some famous prophecy, and is not realizing it, but with all the 'tell' instead of 'show', it was quite confusing.
If I was this princess, I would be all sorts of crazy angry about a fiance running around for years without even to bother speaking to her, bu then again, I am no princess.
I am simply confused.
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