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Book Review: Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton

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On and off over the last few years this blogger has hoped to write a review of Andre Norton’s Three Hands for Scorpio. But despite her best efforts, until today this blogger did not manage to find the time. And on closer reflection that may have less to do with her schedule and more to do with the quality of the book itself.

Scorpio was the last novel Andre Norton wrote before her death in March 2005. Already ill for some time before this, she lived long enough to see the cover art (pictured above) before passing through the last gate she referenced so often in her fiction. Though she did her best and turned out a good story, comparing it to her previous works shows that Norton was at the end of her time when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio.

Set in a fictional version of England, the book blends sixteenth century and Medieval Britain, with mixed results. There are snaplocks (guns) and swords used alongside alien magic and ancient sorcery. A church under the head of a queen is the primary religion in the characters’ home country, while a strange religion that brutally mistreats women has taken hold in the northern land of Gurlyon. Amidst these two countries lies a third land hidden in a ravine. This country is filled with strange creatures and even weirder inhabitants. Known as the Dismals, it is a land where many go but from which none have ever returned.

Andre Norton Witch World series/Halfblood Chronicles series/Trillium series/stand alone novel ...

Andre Alice Norton

Normally, Ms. Norton could have sewn this tapestry together seamlessly. But due to her illness, she did not succeed as well as she could have. Although the story is entertaining there are scenes that do not seem to be related to one another, yet are said to tie together. Descriptions, one of Miss Norton’s strong points, wander off base from time to time or focus on matters that have no importance. Some could accuse her of always engaging in this practice, but previous Norton novels always used descriptions of weird temples, places, or beasts/plants to help enhance the sense of strangeness and wonder in her fictional worlds. Three Hands for Scorpio tries to do this but does not quite succeed.

I think, personally, that the reason for this failure rests entirely on the author’s deteriorating powers. Ms. Norton was not far from death’s door when she wrote Three Hands for Scorpio. After a point, I believe, she simply could not focus well enough or spend the energy to finish tying off the various threads of the story without using up what time remained to her.

In all honesty, despite its flaws, I appreciate this novel precisely because it is Ms. Norton’s last. She held on long enough to give her fans one final story, a book to cherish because she fought death to give readers an enjoyable parting gift. That took a great deal of strength, commitment, and courage on her part, and I believe it behooves readers to give her the respect she earned in her final months on this Earth.

31 best Tristan Elwell images on Pinterest | Fantasy art, Fantasy artwork and Cover art

Having said this, it is now time to take a look at the tale itself. Three Hands for Scorpio follows the adventures of the three daughters of Earl Scorpy of Verset. Verset is on the Alsonian border, right across from the northern country of Gurlyon. A great battle waged on the day of the sisters’ birth ended the ongoing war with the North, though border raids and kidnappings remain a part of life in and around Verset.

The three Scorpy girls – Tamara, Sabina, and Drucilla – are identical triplets. Tamara is the oldest, the one who enjoys horse riding and combat training the most. Sabina’s talent is herb lore and healing. Drucilla enjoys weaving tapestries, often basing her patterns on things she has seen in her dreams.

Each sister possesses the Talent, a measure of Power with which they were born. It seems to operate on the same basis as the Talent in the Witch World even though this country is in an alternate universe. All three girls can communicate telepathically, constantly talking among themselves mind-to-mind. They are also able to speak to their mother, who is a strong sorceress, and their father in this manner. While he has less Talent than the women in his family, that which the Lord of Verset does hold is quite formidable.

The story starts with the three sisters embroidering a tapestry Drucilla dreamed up. As they are working Sabina comments that there is something off about the design, prompting Tam and Cilla to take a closer look at it. Just as they realize the drawing is of Dark origin, their mother steps into the room and demands to know what is going on. Learning that Drucilla dreamt the design and did not of her own volition choose to begin weaving it, the Lady of Verset has her daughters repudiate the evil behind the picture. She then has the family’s wise woman, known as Duty, take the embroidery to be destroyed.

Once the offensive weaving has been removed from the room, the Lady of Verset tells her daughters that their father has at last secured a truce with the neighboring Gurly lord, who will bring a priest of the alien religion along in his retinue. Rumors about this creed’s view of women have reached the castle already and the girls are advised to be on their best behavior. Angering the priest may jeopardize the treaty and begin the war all over again.

Now one would think Cilla’s dream and near-disastrous embroidery would have served as a warning to the family that something nasty was coming. And the Verset family is certainly cautious. However, despite their best safety measures, trouble erupts. The priest traveling with the Gurly lord calls the Verset ladies openly insults the ladies of Verset, and the noble’s second son speaks to Tamara as though she were a prostitute at dinner. Infuriated by his lack of honor, all three sisters immediately stand up. Mincing no words, Tam explains why they are leaving the table, further humiliating the young lord. Then she marches off with her sisters to their tower room.

Image result for three hands for scorpio by andre norton

Thinking over their behavior after they have calmed down, the three are none too sure they acted rightly. When their mother arrives they expect a scolding. However, while she admits their abrupt exit caused a scene, she holds them blameless for the dilemma. Their father likewise absolves them when he joins their mother in holding court in the girls’ bedroom.

Explaining that the three will remain home when their parents go with the Gurly lord to sign the treaty elsewhere, the sisters’ parents tell them that while they are technically “grounded,” they essentially have to hold the fort while the Lord and Lady of Verset are gone. This night’s trouble has been a baptism of fire, meaning the sisters have now unofficially entered the world plotting and scheming the adults have dealt with for so long. Therefore they must be prepared to ride to war – metaphorically speaking. They are officially “grounded” and confined to the tower for the foreseeable future, after all.

So for the next few days the Scorpy girls maintain their training regimen at the same time they monitor the castle. As they wrap up fencing practice two of the maids run in to tell them about a peddler, one who says he has no news of the North. Since every peddler usually has news from Gurlyon, the three are immediately suspicious. They send the women to buy some of the trader’s finery and learn more about what he has or hasn’t seen. They also have the castle bailiff try to get information out of him via games and drink.

What information the sisters’ receive isn’t unreasonable but it is still odd enough to set them wondering. With dusk becoming night the three head up to bed, suddenly quite tired. Before hitting the sack, though, one of them draws a symbol for warding over the door to their chamber. When asked why, she admits she did it on instinct.

Too tired to think about this very hard, the three fall into bed. In the middle of the night, Sabina awakes to find she cannot move. Nor can she speak, telepathically or with her voice. Helpless, she witnesses strangers pull her and her sisters out of bed, tie them up in rugs, and take them out of the castle into the wilds.

After a time of hard riding Tam, Bina, and Cilla find they have been captured by a Breaksword, one who survived a hanging. Though he has been hired by the Gurly noble’s son to bring the Scorpy girls to him, he also wants revenge on the Lord of Verset. Since Lord Scorpy had him hung, this Breaksword is happy to take the job of kidnapping his daughters just to make him suffer. When the castle rouses from the spell laid on it and the residents come looking for the sisters, he has them thrown into the Dismals – where the adventure really begins.

Image result for three hands for scorpio by andre norton

As I said above, the novel is not very well tied together. The description of the sisters’ abduction does not flow the way previous kidnappings Norton orchestrated did. Scenes like it also fall apart as one tries to read them. The active transitions from place to place or scene to scene literally become a near-incoherent mess for two or three paragraphs (in this reader’s mind) before straightening out into intelligible writing. It makes the story hard to read and can give even the most committed reader a headache.

Now, this does not change the fact that the story is good, or that it was a strong effort on the part of a dying author. It does, however, mean that readers will have a difficult time making their way throughout the narrative. Norton did her best – she really did. But it was not enough to make Three Hands for Scorpio the equal of her earlier works.

Clearly, this book is not for the casual reader. It may not even appeal to die-hard Andre Norton fans. I really cannot recommend this book to anyone in either category who looks at my opinion and says, “Nope, not going to wade through that to find the gem!”

I understand that. I really do. And I respect readers who feel Scorpio isn’t worth their time. However, I do suggest giving it at least one read through. Norton was not at her best when she wrote Three Hands, but she was determined to go out with flags flying. That is an effort that is worth a glance, isn’t it?

‘Til next time,

The Mithril Guardian

Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout: Before There Was a J. K. Rowling There Was Andre Norton

Book Review: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones obituary | Books | The Guardian

Diana Wynne Jones

Previously, the first two books in this Diana Wynne Jones’ series – Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air – were reviewed here and here at Thoughts on the Edge of Forever. It is hard to recall for sure, but this blogger may or may not have stated in the latter post that she wished Mrs. Jones would write a fourth book in the series in the future.

Unfortunately, what I did not know at the time that post was published was that Mrs. Jones had passed away several years prior. If she has completed any more novels, then they have not been and never will be published this side of eternity. In her honor, therefore, this blogger decided to review the third and final book in her Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. This would be none other than House of Many Ways.

The book begins with Mrs. Baker having a discussion with her great aunt by marriage. Aunt Sempronia has decided that Mr. and Mrs. Baker’s only daughter, Charmain, must take care of her Great-Uncle William’s house. Known to the rest of High Norland as Wizard Norland, Great-Uncle William is going in for surgery to take care of “…a growth.” No one else in the family can find the time to manage the property, so Aunt Sempronia has come in search of someone to mind the manor.

Truth be told, though, Aunt Sempronia has already selected the lucky young person who will manage the house while her Great-Uncle is away. This fortunate youth is the Bakers’ daughter, Charmain. Aunt Sempronia thinks the responsibility would be good for grand-niece-by-marriage, since the child does nothing but read and eat while her Aunt is present. Despite eating so much Charmain is quite skinny. She also hasn’t had to lift a finger to work around the house, with her mother treating her like a caged tigress and her father forbidding her to do anything that isn’t “nice.”

Retro Friday Review: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne ...

So while she is not pleased to have been volunteered, Charmain is more than happy to have the opportunity to leave home. It is, as she herself admits, the opportunity she has been waiting for. The day before she leaves, Charmain takes out paper and pen to write a letter to the King of High Norland. The King and his daughter, Princess Hilda (whom we met in Castle in the Air), are busy cataloging the royal library.

Charmain loves books, and so working at the library with the King and the Princess has been her dream job for most of her young life. Free of her parents’ supervision for the next couple of weeks, she decides to take the plunge and applies to become their aid in the royal library. Although she is certain the King will dispose of her letter after reading it, Charmain feels better for trying.

The next day Aunt Sempronia arrives and picks her up. During the ride she grills the girl about her skills, asking in the process if she knows any magic. Since Mrs. Baker believes that magic is “not nice,” Charmain has never learned to use it. The idea of being denied her opportunity makes her blanch.

Luckily, Aunt Sempronia doesn’t seem to notice. She rattles off a few more notes about what is expected of her grand-niece-by-marriage until they arrive at the house. They get there just before the Elves come to pick up Great-Uncle William and take him in for surgery. Charmain barely has time to meet him, let alone ask him for instructions, before he is whisked away.

Left to her own devices, Charmain looks around. What she finds is an absolute mess. The taps in the kitchen sink are gone, the laundry has piled up, and dirty dishes abound. Exclaiming at the disaster, the heroine is quite surprised when Great-Uncle William’s voice echoes from the house itself. He has left instructions for her via a briefcase full of papers and a spell that lets him give her directions around the house.

Amazon.com: World of Howl Collection: Howl's Moving Castle ...

He also asks her to take care of his little dog, a white terrier type animal he calls Waif. Overcome by the sudden onslaught of responsibility, Charmain resorts to her first, best source of comfort. She grabs a book and starts reading….

….Only to find that her mother packed plenty of clothes and her father enough food to last a week. But neither of them packed one book for her to read while she is away from home.

Things pick up from here, readers, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that this book in the trilogy is the one I have reread most. It is the funniest of the three novels, and I do not say that lightly. Everything entertaining in the earlier books is here, plus some. The characters are fantastic, the magic is good, and the hilarity is just pitch perfect.

If you can pick up House of Many Ways, I highly recommend doing so. You cannot go wrong with this book. Some may not like it as much as the previous ones, but this seems rather unlikely to me. How could anyone not find this story as funny as it is heartwarming?

Of course, there is only one way to find out. 😉

‘Til next time, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: House of Many Ways | Anime and Book Messiah

Book Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Retro Friday Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne ...

Previously, Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle was reviewed here at Thoughts. It was so good that I thought an analysis of the sequel was in order. Castle in the Air has the great distinction of improving upon the framework in the original story, something that doesn’t always happen in modern fiction.

It begins in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a country far to the south of Ingary, the nation where Howl’s Moving Castle takes place. A young carpet merchant named Abdullah is standing in his booth at the Bazaar, daydreaming about being a prince. Though Abdullah’s father was a rich carpet merchant, everything but his booth went to his first wife’s in-laws because he was disappointed in his son.

Just why he was upset with his son Abdullah doesn’t know. And at this point, it doesn’t matter to him, either. Despite his daydreams, Abdullah is a very happy carpet merchant. He sells enough goods to make a comfortable living, and he is content to never be wealthy or leave the Bazaar. In truth, he really does not have a reason to want to leave; his reveries just add a touch of romance to his otherwise ordinary life.

In the middle of his latest fantasy (which, for the first time, features a beautiful princess), a customer appears and asks to sell him a carpet. He wants five hundred gold pieces for the rug, but Abdullah is skeptical. The mat is in bad shape, and even if he wanted it, he certainly wouldn’t pay five hundred gold coins for it.

So when the man says it is a magic carpet, Abdullah is intrigued but disbelieving. He allows the stranger to enter the booth proper in order to have him prove that the carpet can fly. Even when a commotion occurs in the next stall, the carpet merchant keeps an eye on his customer as the man orders the rug two feet into the air.

The carpet does as it is told and, after checking to make sure none of the usual tricks could have been pulled to fake its flight, Abdullah agrees to buy the carpet. Several hours are spent haggling over the price, and he finally pays two hundred fifty gold pieces for the mat before going out to lunch. Worried the rug will fly away when he leaves, Abdullah ties it the center pole of the booth to make sure it stays put.

Castle in the Air (First Edition)

It does. But in order to keep an even better eye on it, Abdullah puts the carpet on top of his bed (which is made up of other carpets piled one atop the other). During the night, Abdullah wakes to find himself in a luscious garden. There he meets a girl – a princess – who mistakes him for a girl.

How can she make that obvious error? Simple – the only man she has ever seen is her father, the Sultan. Confused, but convinced this is all a dream, Abdullah tells the princess about his daydreams. And because he thinks he is still asleep, he makes it sound like his daylight fantasies are the truth.

The delighted princess, who identifies herself as Flower-in-the-Night, absorbs his tale with avid interest. But when the two try to experiment with the carpet, they accidentally give it the wrong command, sending Abdullah back to his booth post-haste. He wakes up again the next morning feeling blue, until he realizes that he was not actually dreaming. The carpet transported him to a real palace where he met a real princess named Flower-in-the-Night.

Abdullah spends the rest of the day buying paintings of different men so he can bring them to Flower-in-the-Night (who is still convinced he is a woman). Once he has done this, he tries ordering the carpet back to the palace at once. But it doesn’t budge, throwing Abdullah into despair. There appears to be a secret code word that will “activate” the magic carpet, but since he does not know it, he is stuck.

Once he calms down a little, though, Abdullah reminds himself that the carpet definitely took him to the palace the previous night. Deciding that he must have mumbled the code word in his sleep, he asks the rug to transport him to Flower-in-the-Night as soon as he speaks the word in his sleep. Meanwhile, he waits anxiously for nightfall so he can go to bed and return to his princess.

The plan works, and Abdullah shows Flower-in-the-Night the pictures. She studies them all, especially the ones showing the most handsome specimens, then declares that none of them are as handsome as her midnight visitor. Confirming that she is now sure he is, in fact, a man, Abdullah falls to discussing marriage with her. As it turns out, Flower-in-the-Night is to be betrothed to the Prince of Ochinstan (the Rashpuht name for Ingary). Upset upon learning that it is common for men in Rashpuht to have more than one wife, Flower-in-the-Night declares that to be an unfair arrangement, especially when Abdullah says he thinks even the Prince of Ochinstan already has several wives.

Castle in the Air Audiobook | Diana Wynne Jones | Audible.com

The discussion of marriage eventually brings the two to talk about their relationship. It isn’t long before they both decide to elope, and Abdullah begins to set the plan in motion. He narrowly escapes being married to his two fat cousins before the following nightfall. After selling off his stock and sewing the money into his clothes, he goes to sleep on the carpet.

Sometime later, he awakes in the garden. Flower-in-the-Night rushes out to meet him, and it looks like their fairy tale life together is about to begin…

…Until an enormous, dark djinn arrives and snatches up Flower-in-the-Night.

Things begin to pick up from here, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, readers. Suffice it to say this novel is as good – if not better – than its predecessor. The humor is top notch, the characters are well drawn, and the story is executed beautifully. It is a great read.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Castle in the Air and Howl’s Moving Castle at your earliest opportunity and read them for yourselves. You won’t regret it!

Until next time!

Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle, #2) by Diana ...

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

YES!!! Finally, the pile of books this author set out to review last year is DONE!!! Whoo-hoo!

Sorry to take so long to get here, readers. But with one thing and another, yours truly ended up going through these various analyses at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, that will be avoidable it in the future – but since life happens, we will have to wait and see how that goes. The important thing is that this particular novel is now on the table for discussion. Yay! 😀

It has been some time since I read The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, in full. However, that has not dimmed my love for this wonderful book. Despereaux is one of the best children’s stories ever written. Ms. DiCamillo is a truly good writer who is well-respected in the field, as shown by Dean Koontz’ many allusions to her novels (including this one) in his stories. They appear to agree on many things and seem to see life through a similar lens, which means that if you like the one, you may enjoy the other.

That being said, it is not a guarantee. DiCamillo writes for children, middle graders on up to high school level. Her focus isn’t on horror, though there is an undercurrent of dread in many of her novels. For the most part, she deals in fairy tales, though hers are different from the originals in many ways. The Tale of Despereaux is, as we shall see, a good example of this…

Within the walls of a castle in a far away land, Despereaux Tilling is the only surviving mouse in his litter. Born to Antoinette and Lester Tilling, the rest of his litter died at birth. Disappointed by this and how the stresses of giving birth keep ruining her beauty, Antoinette declares she will have no more babies. Staring at Despereaux, Lester Tilling sighs and states that he will be the last and that he will die soon, just like the others.

The reason he says this? Despereaux is an unnaturally small mouse. With the exception of his ears, this infant mouse is extremely tiny. But his ears are huge, much like Dumbo’s were. More disturbing to his father, this last son was born with his eyes open. On top of this, instead of dying, the little mouse lives. Though he hardly grows any bigger and becomes ill easily, Despereaux keeps on living happily in the castle.

Others, however, are not pleased with the youngest of the Tilling offspring. This is due almost entirely to the fact that Despereaux does not act at all like a proper mouse. He does not scurry, search for crumbs, or fear anything or anyone within the castle. Instead he stares at light streaming through the windows and listens to a music none of the other mice seem to hear.

And then things go from bad to worse. Despereaux learns to read in lew of chewing up and eating the glue in the books in the castle library. How he learns is a mystery; when his older sister takes him to the library to start chewing up the books, Despereaux looks at the open volume she wants him to start on and read the first line aloud.

He finds the story in the book enthralling.  It is about a knight rescuing a fair princess and goes back to read it every single day after his older siblings give up trying to teach him how to be a proper mouse. Although this is decidedly odd behavior for a mouse, his family leaves him to it. This allows him to spend the hours he is not reading exploring the world of the castle or staring at light streaming through windows.

In between readings and wanderings, Despereaux discovers the sound he is hearing is music. The music is played by the king for his daughter, the Princess Pea. Going to a crack in the wall of her room, Despereaux listens to the music from the hole. Then he sticks his head through the hole. Then his front legs, and so on, until he is right in the room at the foot of the king, where the princess sees him.

And then something amazing, wonderful, and utterly ridiculous happens. Despereaux falls in love with the princess. (Yes, he does. Really.)

Now the Princess Pea has her own story. A few years ago her mother died. This was due to shock. Arat, Chiaroscuro (Roscuro for short), from the castle dungeon snuck into the chandelier above the banquet hall and accidentally fell in the queen’s soup. Seeing him, the queen was so astonished that she could only say, “There is a rat in my soup,” before fainting and falling face first into said soup. That is where she died.

Following this sad event, the king outlawed rats, soup, and spoons to assuage his grief. His and the castle staff’s only solace now is the Princess Pea, to whom the king is singing and with whom Despereaux has fallen in love. Pea wants to have soup back in the kingdom just like everyone else, but she is still too sad over her mother’s death to do anything about changing her father’s mind in that regard at the moment.

Meanwhile, stuck in the dungeon below the castle, Roscuro is plotting his revenge on the princess for having him banished. Unlike most rats, Roscuro has a great love of light and beauty. Seeing the princess glaring at him after her mother’s death broke his heart, and now he wants to get back at her and everyone else in the castle.

What does all of this have to do with poor Despereaux? Unknown to him, he has not met the princess unobserved. One of his older brothers sees the princess touch Despereaux on the nose. Convinced he is, at least, a goner, this brother reports everything he has witnessed to the council of mice that run the mouse community in the castle.

They are not happy that the little mouse has been seen. Part of this is for practical reasons – if the palace staff starts seeing too many mice around, or the king gets upset about seeing a mouse, the entire community will be chased out of the castle or banished to the dungeon with the rats. But most of the reason the council is unhappy is because mice do not fraternize with humans; it “simply isn’t done.”

So now you can imagine how they react to Despereaux’s declaration of undying love for the Princess Pea, can’t you, readers?

Ah, ah, ah! Those are all the spoilers that you are going to get! I’ve given too much of the story away as it is. If you want to know more, borrow or buy The Tale of Despereaux today. Worth its purchase price many times over, this is a book no shelf should be lacking!

Until next time. 😉

Book Review: The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

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Did you ever dream about your toys coming to life, speaking to you, playing with you, and becoming your best friends, readers? I used to do that. I loved the characters in all the stories I read about or watched on TV. I wanted to romp with 101 Dalmatians come to life, to pilot a zoid across Zi’s burning deserts, to travel through the Stargate with SG-1. I even wanted to hang out with Lieutenant Harmon Rabb Jr. from JAG.

So this means that stories such as The Castle in the Attic were tailor made for me. If I could not convince my toys to come to life and talk to me, I could read about toys that did do this for their owners.

William Lawrence is a ten year old American boy. Since he was little, while his parents have been away at work he has been cared for by Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips is from England. She lost her husband in World War II, and aside from William and his parents her only family is her brother, who still lives in England.

Coming back from gym class one day, William learns that Mrs. Phillips is going back to England. She is homesick and wants to go back. This upsets William mightily. He loves the old woman like she was his own grandmother and he does not want her to leave.

So he takes the picture of her husband and her pearl pin and hides them, hoping that this will make her stay. But Mrs. Phillips knows him too well not to guess what he has done, and eventually William returns the items. In order to make their parting a little easier, Mrs. Phillips gives William a model castle which has been in her family for generations.

There is only one toy that goes with the fully equipped, articulated castle: a knight carrying a dagger, sword, and shield. Called the Silver Knight, William puts the toy and the box it came in on the castle courtyard.

Later, after he has been put to bed, William waits until everyone has gone off to sleep. Then he sneaks upstairs, opens the box, and takes out the Silver Knight.

But the Knight does not feel like a toy. He feels warm. And squishy. And he is moving!

William is so surprised that he drops the Knight in the castle courtyard. Once he is upright, the Silver Knight challenges William to a duel. Once the preliminary arguments are dispensed with, the two go to their separate beds. William is not quite sure that he has not dreamed the entire encounter, so he goes up to the attic again next morning to see if the Knight is still there and alive.

Turns out, he is.

The adventure continues on from here, readers, but I do not want to spoil more of the story. If you want to know what else happens in the book, you shall have to cross that drawbridge yourselves! I would not want to spoil your fun.

Also, be sure to look for the sequel, Battle for the Castle. It is not my favorite of the two, but it never hurts to read the sequel at least once.

See you around!

Image result for battle for the castle by elizabeth winthrop

Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

Image result for Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton

Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

Image result for Warlock of the Witch World by Andre Norton

The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

Image result for Sorceress of the Witch World by Andre Norton

The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle film

If you are familiar with the renowned Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle, this blogger must warn you up front: Mr. Miyazaki diverged somewhat from Mrs. Jones’ story. Now, Mrs. Jones has no problem with that, the author of this post has no problem with that, and no one I know personally has a problem with this. But some people somewhere are bound to prefer either the book or the movie over the other. And in this case, that is a real shame, because both film and novel are about equal in terms of storytelling power and prowess.

Besides which, if you want to better understand the film’s plot, Mrs. Jones’ book is the best place to find information on the world of Howl’s Moving Castle. In the film, we see that Sophie is running her father’s hat shop, her mother is shallow and into the latest fashions, and Sophie is continually passed over because she is not as pretty as her younger sister, Lettie.

In the book, the very first thing we learn is that the country where Sophie Hatter and her family live is called Ingary. Second, the mother we see in the film should actually be Sophie’s stepmother. Her mother in the books died when she was two and Lettie was one; so her father remarried a young woman who worked in his hat shop. This young woman was named Fanny. Fanny had a child not long after the marriage – another daughter – and her name is Martha. So there are actually three Hatter sisters in the book.

Another thing to remember about Ingary (other than it is a country where invisibility cloaks and seventeen league boots are real), is that the eldest of three in a family never has an interesting or prosperous future. Neither does the second child, though that one may do somewhat better than the oldest. No, it is the third of three who makes the mark on the world.

Sophie learns this at school and so resigns herself to her fate. This makes her quite agreeable, after her father’s sudden death, to taking up residence in the hat shop, which she will inherit after Fanny retires. Meanwhile, Lettie is to be apprenticed to a baker and Martha is to be apprenticed to a witch.

And speaking of witches, it turns out that the Witch of the Waste once terrorized the country of Ingary fifty years back. Rumor has it she has returned now to take her revenge on the king, and so no one is allowed to go out alone, especially at night.

To add to the trouble, the king’s wizard – Suliman – went out to deal with the Witch of the Waste. Unfortunately, it appears that his attempt got him killed.

And on top of all this, a great big floating castle is roaming around Sophie’s town of Market Chipping. At first the residents think it is the Witch’s castle. Then someone explains it is actually the residence of the Wizard Howl.

This is no improvement, however. Howl is said to suck the souls from the prettiest girls he meets. That or eat their hearts; the rumors vary. Either way, no one in Market Chipping wants to lose their daughters to either fate, and Sophie, Lettie, and Martha are warned to never go out alone or to have any dealings with Howl.

When Sophie finally gets away from the hat shop to see Lettie some months later, she happens to run into a very attractive young man at the May Day celebrations. She barely speaks to him, but even that is enough to anger the jealous Witch of the Waste!

And so Sophie’s adventure in the novel begins.

I enjoy the film and the book about equally. Mrs. Diana Wynne Jones is an excellent writer, and her books are full of fun. Howl’s Moving Castle has two sequels: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I may get around to reviewing these in the future, or I may not. If you can find copies of these novels, though, I highly recommend them to you. They are hilarious!!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian