Songssmith by Andre Norton and A.C. Crispin (1992) – I’m always wary of books by Andre Norton and someone else. Some of those written close to the end of her life have no Andre Norton in them at all. Several I couldn’t finish reading because I couldn’t find any of her magic in them. I know of what I speak because I started reading her space and fantasy adventures when I was a kid and own most of her works (we’re talking triple digits here). I’ll admit that as I got older, her chaste, action stories started to run together, but as I got older still, I found them to be a comfort. I still reread the original Witch World books regularly.
But back to Songsmith. It had a lot of Andre Norton magic including familiar characters – a bard traveling halfway around the world to find a cure for her brain-fevered father, an orphan warlock with a demonic (but loyal) horse, a really good bad guy, and lots of tying together of Witch World history. The surprising thing was it had a romance! Andre’s characters never even hint at any kind of passionate relationship. I suspect A.C. Crispin had a hand in developing the characters into more lifelike beings. It’s not a Harlequin by any means. The relationship doesn’t really begin until almost the end, but it’s there.
The story might be a little confusing for someone who hasn’t read Andre’s body of work. These two characters – the bard who wields a sword as well as she does magic and the warlock who was raised by an evil witch and killed his best friend – were fostered by characters from earlier books. He actually lived with one of the Three Who Are One in the original Witch World books, and her family had their own adventures on their side of the world. They struggle, they stumble on exactly the helpful magic they need when they need it (another Andre Norton signature), and they survive through the help of their animal friends (A.C. must have nixed the obligatory cat).
When the ending suddenly appeared, I assumed that the restoration of her father, the locating of her stolen mother, and the destruction of the wicked witch would be in another book. Unfortunately, they’re all crammed into the last couple chapters so they really don’t give the reader the satisfaction of knowing who all the champions are and fully understand their challenges.
One thing I did like (and this might be A.C.’s handiwork, too) was the fact that the evil witch tried to redeem herself at the end or at least explain why she did what she did. In Andre’s other books (even her science fiction ones), the bad guys are automatons who have little personality and are bad just for the joy of being bad.
This was a great collaboration and seals the breach between her two series of Witch World books. The union of these two young people speaks well of the future of Witch World even though the bard, and maybe her husband, are one of the Seven destined to save the world. The union of these two writers provides some excellent reading.