The Riddle-Master of Hed
Re-reading this since the first time I looked at it a few years ago, I am stuck by how much more I enjoyed it the second time around. I read first about ten years ago in the full collection with all three books, and finished this first volume, and never went back.
We begin in Hed, where Morgon, the prince, has recently returned from a mysterious voyage. His sister first finds an old crown under his bed, and when she confronts Morgon about it, he admits that he won it in a riddle contest. Looking at the value of the crown, the sister rightly wonders what he put up as stake in the contest and realizes the answer soon after. Morgon goes off on adventure, where he feels more at home, and finds himself in lots of different scrapes and situations. He’s shipwrecked, kidnapped, left for dead, etc. He also meets other riddlemasters (for that’s what he is) and soon realizes that he both has tremendous talent at riddles, and also that he barely scraped by his first big contest by luck more than anything. It was also because Hed, so small and underappreciated, was able to hide its secrets from much of the rest of the world. This can’t stay true much longer and so Morgan must learn all he can, as fast as he can.
“If you have no faith in yourself, then have faith in the things you call truth. You know what must be done. You may not have courage or trust or understanding or the will to do it, but you know what must be done. You can’t turn back. There is now answer behind you. You fear what you cannot name. So look at it and find a name for it. Turn your face forward and learn. Do what must be done.”
Heir of Sea and Fire
The second book doesn’t pick up right where the other stopped and is structured more the same way that His Dark Materials is, where we have a second character going on her own journey and rite of passage so that she and the original can meet up in the third book.
In this book we have Raederle who finds out that she was promised to a man who won a riddling contest. This was Morgon, from the first book, and now that he’s disappeared, she goes off looking for him and travels along much of the same route that he does. And well, wouldn’t you know it, she gets captured too and goes off on her own journey in which her role in the world and what powers will attend to this follow along with her.
Harpist in the Wind
In this final book in the trilogy, Morgon and Raederle are united and more or less married. They become shape changers, fight wizards, and learn about the world and their lives in it.
As a whole, I found this series of books both oblique at times, seemingly inventing new worlds out of whole cloth and often coming up with explanations for things as needed, and also somewhat empty at times. It has that feel that sometimes books have of promising huge worlds and huge stories, but then the world is relatively small and crowded at times. This is true both in the ways of the mythology that works in the world, and the fact that there’s sometimes like a billion people, and sometimes like five. I think it’s a product of the story centering so heavily on single people who are more or less chosen in a kind of destiny, as opposed to protagonists, who inhabit a much bigger world than the book contains.
“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. A small boy caught sight of the round-hulled ships with their billowing sails striped red and blue and green, picking their way among the tiny fishing boats in the distance, and ran up the coast from Tol to Akren, the house of Morgon, Prince of Hed. There he disrupted an argument, gave his message, and sat down at the long, nearly deserted tables to forage whatever was left of breakfast. The Prince of Hed, who was recovering slowly from the effects of loading two carts of beer for trading the evening before, ran a reddened eye over the tables and shouted for his sister.”