Tag Archives: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Book Review: Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

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Welcome back to the Witch World, readers! This book – Year of the Unicorn – takes place in the Dales of High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. We are in uncharted, amazing territory here. Let’s dive in!

The long war between the Dalesmen and the Hounds of Alizon is finally over. The uniting of the Dale Lords, coupled with the loss of their support from the alien Kolder, weakened the Hounds’ ability to fight the Dalesmen, to be sure. But even this was not enough to secure the victory of High Hallack over the invaders. No, only one thing tipped the balance in their favor toward the end of the war. That was the appearance of the Were Riders on the side of the Dalesmen.

You are probably wondering who or what the Were Riders are, aren’t you? Bespelled by an Adept in the hidden realm of Arvon, which is sealed off from the rest of High Hallack, the Were Riders are men who can turn into animals. They have other magic as well, of course, but the Dalesmen know them best for their ability to assume the forms of beasts and birds.

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There are roughly thirty members of the Were Rider “Pack,” as they call themselves. And they agreed to enter the war on the side of the Dalesmen on one condition: after the war was over, the Dale Lords would provide the Riders with thirteen maids of marriageable age. They were to be comely and without illness or some other blemish, and they were to become the brides of thirteen of the Riders. The Pack was exiled from hidden Arvon to the rest of High Hallack; they did not come here willingly, they were banished.

But their time of exile is nearly ended. Once it is done they will either be allowed to reenter Arvon – or they will be stuck in High Hallack for the rest of their lives. If that last occurs, they do not want their people, such as they are (all the Riders are male), to disappear. The only way to preserve themselves as a race is to marry.

At the Abbey of the Flame in Norsdale, Gillan helps the Dames at their daily tasks. Taken by the Hounds from a land across the sea, she remembers nothing of her real home or people. Gillan only remembers scraps of the sea voyage and being rescued by Dalesmen raiding her captors’ ship when it arrived in port.

The Lord Furlo led the raid which rescued Gillan and so his wife, Lady Freeza, kept her as a fosterling. They retreated to the Abbey when he was killed and their Dale taken by the enemy. The strain of both losses, however, was too much for Lady Freeza and she died, leaving Gillan in the care of the Dames.

While grateful for the Dames’ protection over the years, Gillan has begun to feel trapped in the Abbey. Her chance to escape comes when the selected brides for the Were Riders stop by to take advantage of the Dames’ hospitality – and to pick up a couple of brides to fill the quota along the way.

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One of these prospective maids, a girl named Marimme, goes off into hysterics when she learns what her guardian has in mind for her. Seizing her chance both to help the poor creature and to escape the Abbey, Gillan knocks the girl out and takes her place, joining the other twelve brides on their journey to meet the Were Riders. By the time her deception is discovered it is too late to send her back, and so Gillan goes with the other young women to meet her future husband.

The Rider she chooses is Herrel. Herrel is not a full Were Rider; he is not as powerful as the rest of the Pack. And Gillan did not choose him because she was bedazzled by the marriage spell he and the other Riders used to call their new wives to them; somehow, she could see past the illusion. Nevertheless, she chose Herrel as her husband.

Herrel soon puts two and two together, realizing in the process that Gillan is not like the other girls or even of High Hallack. But because he is not as powerful as his fellow Riders, he cannot protect her from anything they try to do to her if they discover her power. So he asks Gillan to pretend the illusion the Pack keeps up for the benefit of the other brides is real, in order to protect them both from trouble.

If you think she says no, you would be wrong. If you think Herrel’s hope to keep Gillan’s ability secret gets exposed, you would be closer to the mark, readers. Year of the Unicorn is one of the best novels Miss Norton ever wrote; after the Falconers, I think I love the Were Riders best out of all her fictional races. They are just as cool and mysterious as the men of the Eyrie who, despite their practices, have always intrigued me.

In one of her essays, Miss Norton said that Year of the Unicorn is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I leave you, readers, to discover how they are alike. No more spoilers here; go out and get the book yourselves. You won’t regret it!

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Book Review: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

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I have stated that I am not a fan of horror novels/films/fill-in-the-blank. That still stands. Do I believe in ghosts, monsters, demons, and evil? Oh, yes, I do. That is part of the reason why I do not like horror stories. Too many people think these things are not real, and therefore they take them lightly. But these things are all very real, so I do not have a blasé attitude when I consider them.

Evil is real, and Koontz makes sure to tell his readers this time and again throughout his novels. The Good Guy is no exception; it opens with Tim Carrier – a bachelor, mason, bricklayer, and former United States Marine – sitting down to have a beer.

Since his return to the states, Tim’s kept himself off the radar. He is a self-employed mason in California who shows up, does his job well, and says very little about himself. He likes to end his days with a drink or two at his friend’s bar, the Lamplighter Tavern.

On this particular night, though, he does not go unnoticed. A nervous, twitchy little man enters the establishment after Tim has exchanged the usual pleasantries with his friend. For the first few minutes, he thinks the newcomer’s just jumpy, so he tries to strike up an interesting conversation with the guy.

Then the man slides a thick manila envelope over to him with the words, “Half of it’s there. Ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

At first, Tim is too surprised to explain that there has been a mistake. Before he can get his mouth to start working, though, the little man has bolted out the door. Looking at the manila envelope for a while, Tim then opens it and checks out the contents.

Inside are ten thousand dollars in cash and a photo of a pretty woman about Tim’s own age. Printed on the photo is the woman’s name – Linda Paquette – along with her address.

He puts the photo and the money back in the envelope before sliding it as far from him as he can. No sooner has Tim put this slimy offering away, however, than a man – who could be his dopplegänger – enters the bar. He takes the uneasy man’s seat, orders a beer, and picks up the envelope.

What would you do here, readers? Call the cops? Try to tell the man the job’s off? Tim tries the second course, but it does not work. As for the first, Tim considers it until he sees the killer put a police light on the top of his car. This hired murderer might be disguising himself as a cop, but having seen his eyes, heard him talk, our Good Guy doubts that very much. Going to the police will therefore get Linda – and very probably Tim – murdered a whole lot faster.

Now, readers, in this situation, what would you do? Help Linda, or walk away and forget the entire scene had ever occurred?

Dean Koontz lets Mr. Carrier make the choice. And Tim chooses to go help Linda.

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The Good Guy is a great read. It will scare the pants off of you, and it will break your heart. It will crack the veneer of normalcy the academics and journalists have laid over our world to show you the writhing, seething things that hide in the darkness so prevalent in the world where we live. If you pay attention, you will learn many things about evil, faith, hope, love, and courage while reading this book.

Koontz has often referenced Flannery O’Connor, one of his favorite authors, in his novels. Flannery O’Connor once said that her aim in the stories she wrote was to “shout loud enough for the atheists” to hear the truth she had to tell them.

Mr. Koontz is aiming in the same general direction, but it is not just the atheists and unbelievers he wants to awaken. It is the rest of us who go about the world with our hands over our ears, eyes, and mouth in the hopes of avoiding the face of evil. Evil is real. It is very, very real, and the only thing that allows it to win is if good men and women – good guys and girls – let it.

That is Mr. Koontz’s message in all his fiction, something new readers of his works ought to be aware of. The Good Guy is one of the stories where he shouts the loudest.

Discover The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, at your earliest opportunity, readers. It is worth your time and money.

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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

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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

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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

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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 – The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

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If the names Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin look good together, then that is because these authors collaborated several times on novels set in Andre Norton’s universes. From the Witch World to the Time Traders, P. M. Griffin co-wrote a number of stories with Miss Norton. To the best of my knowledge, the only books she has written on her own are her Star Commandos series. I have not been able to read any of those yet, but hopefully I will get that chance in the future.

Firehand is a novel set in Miss Norton’s Time Traders series. Now, I have not read the series all the way through. Heck, I have not even read the first book in the series! Firehand was my introduction to it.

From what I can gather, the Time Traders are units of time-traveling Terran agents who work to ensure that history either remains the same or yields better results than it did previously. But they are not doing this for economic gain. That is, at best, a side benefit. No, the Time Traders’ main mission is to protect the Terran timeline and the histories of its allies/potential allies from the interference of strange aliens called Baldies.

Baldies get their Terran nickname from their bald heads. None of these aliens have tried to be friendly or to make first contact with the Terrans. Mostly, they have either tried to eradicate them or to control them.

Ross Murdock, the young time agent, encountered these aliens in Earth’s Bronze Age on his first time-trading mission. The Baldies, powerful telepaths, at one point were working hard to take control of his mind and bend him to their will. Running for his life, Murdock could not afford to sleep. Sleep would mean his conscious mind was relaxed, which would mean he could not maintain control of himself. So the Baldies could have him sleepwalk all the way back to their camp or into a river where he would drown, and he would be none the wiser until it was too late.

So Murdock kept moving, becoming more and more exhausted as he fled the aliens. Exhaustion, of course, is a threat as well; the more he tired, the more likely he would fall unconscious or collapse into sleep. This would leave him vulnerable to the Baldies’ telepathy as well.

Ross is not a man who submits to domination willingly. In order to stave off sleep and keep the Baldies out of his mind when he rested, he set a fire. Then he put a brand in the fire, took it out, and burned his own hand with it.

That was at the start of his career as a Time Agent. By the time of Firehand, he has been on at least a couple of other missions, gaining more experience and getting tougher by the day.

This latest assignment to the planet Hawaika, though, looks to be his last. With fellow agents Doctor Gordon Ashe and Karara Trehern, Ross had to destroy the time gate to save Hawaika’s future. Now, they are all trapped in Hawaika’s past.

Not that Karara is too unhappy about that. Melding with ancient Hawaikan magic before the final battle, Karara has become something other than human. To leave Hawaika now would be a death sentence for her. But to stay would be equally bad for Gordon and Ross.

Thankfully, the Time Traders have no intention of leaving their highly trained, very expensive agents stuck in the past. Karara they have to leave behind in time for the new history to remain the same; but Ross and Gordon are coming home…

….To face yet another historical crisis. This time, the world they have to save is the Dominion of the Sun-Star Virgin. When they saved Hawaika, something went wrong in the Dominion’s past. Now that world is reduced to a glowing cinder.

So Ross, Gordon, and former Time Trader weapons instructor Eveleen Riordan are going back to Dominion’s past to fix this mess.

And that’s all I am writing, fellas. If you want to know the rest, hunt up the Time Traders series or skip straight to Firehand. As I have said elsewhere, Miss Griffin is a superb writer. Her work on Firehand is not necessarily of the same caliber as her work on Seakeep and Falcon’s Hope from Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance, respectively. In fact, if you are paying attention you will see some similarities between those stories and Firehand.

However, the similarities do not cause too much of a problem for me. If anything, they just show the writer’s preferences. Every writer has some favorite plots, names, animals, character types, or worlds, etc. Who am I to jump all over P. M. Griffin for being normal?

In a while, Crocodile!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Tales of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Here is that next Andre Norton book I promised to review some time ago.  This book is not entirely Miss Norton’s creation. It is an anthology book, which contains several short stories set in Miss Norton’s Witch World universe.

Miss Norton only wrote one story in the whole volume. The others were written by her protégés, authors she helped to get noticed and published by the companies who published her work. It is a long list of authors she helped to get started, readers.

If you are not familiar with the Witch World, you can check out a couple of my other posts about that universe here on the blog. But the Witch World is wide and varied, and those last two posts are just glimpses of a bigger world. Some of these stories will not make much sense if you have only read Witch World and Web of the Witch World.

So this is why I am going to list which stories in Tales of the Witch World are good, and which you may want to avoid. To start with the negatives first, it would be best to avoid Heir Apparent, Cat and the Other, To Rebuild the Eyrie, Milk from a Maiden’s Breast, and Green in High Hallack. None of these stories are particularly well written, in my opinion, and some of them do not fit properly with the rules Miss Norton’s established for her world.

Heir Apparent is told from the villain’s perspective, and so I found it very annoying. Cat and the Other played fast and loose with the rules of Estcarpian society, the niceties, as it were. The honorifics were sloppy and insincere sounding. This makes it grate on my nerves, and so I do not recommend it at all. To Rebuild the Eyrie, which focuses on a young Falconer trying to reestablish his people’s base in the twisted southern mountains, was so poorly written that I did not even finish reading it.

Milk from a Maiden’s Breast I managed to stagger through, though again, I found the author had almost ignored the rules of the Witch World. Green in High Hallack was almost unbearable for me to read for the same reasons. It was also poorly written, which increased my aggravation with both story and author. *Deep sigh.*

These are the stories in the book that I avoid and therefore do not recommend be read. What you wish to read or not read, however, is for you to decide. The only reason I have gone to the trouble of listing the stories which drive me crazy is because I cannot, in good conscience, recommend stories I hate. If you like them, that is your prerogative. My imperative is simply to be as honest as possible when I give my opinions.

On the positive side, I enjoyed most of the other stories. A few of these came dangerously close to breaking Miss Norton’s format, but they were well written and therefore managed to avoid irritating me too much.

The first story in the book is by Andre Norton herself. This one is called Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir, and it is an introduction to the story of Kerovan, a character who lives in High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. Kerovan’s stories usually involve gryphons; one of the books that feature him and his wife is called Gryphon’s Eyrie. I have only read that one story which was based on him and his wife, and so I do not know much about him. Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir fills in some of the blanks for me, but I have much more to find out about him yet.

Then we have Fenneca and Bloodspell. Both these stories also take place in High Hallack, I think. Fenneca may actually take place in Estcarp; the location is never exactly stated. Fenneca breaks a few rules, but it is written well. I am therefore willing to forgive Wilanne Schneider Belden and to recommend that Fenneca be read.

Bloodspell was written by A. C. Crispin. Crispin co-wrote several novels with Miss Norton, and then went on to write a few Star Wars novels. Bloodspell takes place in Arvon, a state in High Hallack which is beyond the Dales. In Year of the Unicorn, it was implied that no one in High Hallack could enter Arvon except through luck or the gates which connect the Witch World to Earth. Bloodspell does not break this rule, but another story later on in the book does.

Crispin’s short story focuses on the Were-riders. Men who were bespelled by an Adept so that they can shape shift into animals, the Were-riders call themselves a Pack. We learn about them first in Miss Norton’s Year of the Unicorn, a very good book I will someday review here. For now, it is enough to say that Crispin wondered why the Were-riders were kicked out of Arvon into the Dales of High Hallack. Miss Norton said she did not know why, and this allowed Crispin to give us the reason in Bloodspell.

Next is The White Road, by Charles de Lint. This story is set in High Hallack immediately after that country has been freed from the Hounds of Alizon. It is fairly well written and takes little liberty with the established rules of Miss Norton’s Witch World. I would give it four out of five stars, if pressed to rate it.

Then there is Oath-Bound, by Pauline Griffin. After Miss Norton, Miss Griffin is the one writer I would trust to successfully tell a story about a Falconer. This story seems to have preceded Seakeep and its sequel; Miss Griffin’s writing here is good, but by her later stories in Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance her writing had greatly improved. I rate Oath-Bound as a somewhat lesser story for this reason, and no other.

Of Ancient Swords and Evil Mist and Nine Words in Winter follow. These stories skate close to breaking Miss Norton’s established laws in the Witch World, as well as the history she had formed around the countries where they take place. However, their writers knew their craft, and so the stories do not truly grate on this reader’s nerves.

Were-Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey, is a very good story. Truth be told, I cannot stand Miss Lackey’s novels (she co-wrote novels with Miss Norton). The woman puts a great deal of detail in her novels – too much detail. She has to explain the whole universe, all the scenes, characters, customs, and clothing in great specificity. This means her novels suffer from a burden of too much description and not enough story. What is more, the resolutions of her novel conflicts are often anti-climatic and unfulfilling. As a novelist, she drives me crazy.

But as a short story writer, she is not so very bad. Were-Hunter is a good example of this. The story is set in Arvon, as a sequel to Year of the Unicorn. Miss Lackey’s handicaps are assets here, and Were-Hunter is one of the stories in Tales of the Witch World that I like best. I do not understand how I can enjoy her short stories and hate her novels, but I do.

Then we have Neither Rest Nor Refuge. This story is set in Karsten at the time when the Old Race was thrice horned, or outlawed, and killed by Duke Yvian in Witch World. It is written well enough that it garners my appreciation for that reason. It also introduces a male character native to Estcarp who can wield the Power. The ending is a cliffhanger, so do not expect too much from it. Still, it is a passable story.

Next are Night Hound’s Moon and Isle of Illusion. Night Hound’s Moon is set in the Dales of High Hallack. It takes place either some time after the end of the war with Alizon, or during a lull in the conflict. Other than that, it is an entertaining story. Isle of Illusion does not adhere very well to Miss Norton’s rules for magic, in my opinion, but it is otherwise well-crafted and the writer knows her business. I do not know just where in the Witch World that Isle of Illusion is set. Seemingly, it is off the coast of High Hallack, but I cannot say for sure.

And last we have The Road of Dreams and Death. Robert E. Vardeman writes well, but I think he should have read a few more of Miss Norton’s Witch World novels before diving into this tale. In The Road of Dreams and Death, the barrier between Arvon and the rest of High Hallack is non-existent, when by rights it should still be there. This is the one thing about the story I do not understand and which rankles when I read it. Otherwise, it is an acceptable yarn.

These are the stories you will find if you pick up Tales of the Witch World, readers. You may like the stories I hate and hate the stories I like. Or you may dislike the whole thing. That is your choice. The stories I have described in some detail are the ones I enjoyed the best and wanted to share with you. If any of you wish to drop me a line disagreeing or discussing the above book, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you! For now…

See ya later!

The Mithril Guardian


Witch World

“Look here.” Simon was bitterly disappointed, the more so because he had almost dared to hope again. Petronius was cracked, there was no escape after all. “Arthur and the Round Table – that’s a fairy tale for kids.  You’re talking as if –”

“As if it were true history?” Petronius caught him up. “Ah, but who is to say what is history and what is not?  Every word of the past which comes to us is colored and influenced by the learning, the prejudices, even the physical condition of the historian who has recorded it for later generations.  Tradition fathers history and what is tradition but word of mouth?  How distorted may such accounts become in a single generation? You, yourself, had your entire life changed by perjured testimony.  Yet that testimony has been inserted in records, has now become history, untrue as it is.  How can anyone say that this story is legend but that one fact, and know that he is correct?  History is made, is recorded by human beings, and it is larded with all the errors our species is subject to. There are scraps of truth in legend and many lies in history.  I know – for the Siege Perilous does exist!”

Exchange (more or less) between Simon Tregarth and Doctor Jorge Petronius in Witch World by Andre Norton

Book Review: Storms of Victory by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

Storms of Victory

Andre Norton was a prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction during her lifetime. Before her death in 2005 she completed her final book, Three Hands for Scorpio, a fantasy novel. Whether she is better known for her science fiction stories or her fantasy novels, I do not know. Both are popular with me, especially the line of fantasy novels that launched Miss Norton to fame.

This line of stories is her Witch World novels. The Witch World is a medieval world linked to Earth and other worlds by a series of gates. Depending on which novel one picks up and reads, the gates may or may not have a great deal to do with the story. In any case, some of these gates are large enough to bring great numbers of people to the Witch World, while others can admit only one person at a time.

There are many cultures in the Witch World, which can confuse the new reader somewhat. I thought I would touch on the few which relate to today’s subject, Storms of Victory – a book containing two short stories set in the Witch World – so as to give any new readers a ‘map’ of this world. The first civilization that readers encounter in the Witch World is that of Estcarp.

Initially, Estcarp was ruled by the Witches’ Council, a council made up of women with the ability to wield Power. Power in the Witch World is not magic per se – though it certainly acts like it, and it can be used to cast ‘spells.’ In the first novel Power is said to be fed by will, imagination, and faith. Using this Power, focused through jewels each Witch wears, the Witches can control most forces (notably water and earth) and also perform acts that sound a great deal like telekinesis and telepathy. During the course of the novels, however, the Witches’ rule over Estcarp declines when their numbers are decimated.

Another society in the Witch World is that of the seafaring Sulcar. The Sulcar are usually traders, but they also tend to act as Estcarp’s navy. They raid into the countries of Estcarp’s enemies and will intermarry with citizens of Estcarp from time to time. The Sulcar go to sea in clans; their men, women, and children all work and live aboard their ships. They traditionally have little to do with Power beyond some control over ‘wind and wave,’ an ability only their wise women appear to possess.

A third culture to impact both short stories in the book, most notably the second one, is the race of Falconers. Falconers are mercenaries who live in the mountains of Estcarp’s southern border. They are a race of fierce fighters who are recognized throughout the Witch World series by the bird-crested helms they wear and the fighting falcons to which each one of their men are mind-bound. A Falconer’s word is his bond; they do not break their oaths and they do not truck with ‘the Dark’ or ‘the Shadow.’

The Falconers are a reticent race, but they do have two other distinguishing characteristics. They hate ‘witchery’ and they hate women; holding both in complete contempt and often referring to the latter simply as ‘mares.’ Though they deal courteously with outside women, they generally avoid them and only have contact with their own women at set times of the year.

What? Their race needs to continue somehow. As it is, the Falconers have a good reason for their dislike of both witchery and women. But you do not need to take my word for it if you read Storms.

The Witches especially find this Falconer practice repulsive, so they forbade even trading with the Falconers. The general population of Estcarp and the rest of the Witch World find it an odd custom, too. The Witches’ ban was later ignored – for very good reason – and by that point the Witches no longer cared. Despite the Falconers’ barbaric treatment of their own women, there is something extremely intriguing about this fictional race Miss Norton made. I have to say I really enjoy the Falconers, no matter their attitude toward women and most forms of Power.

All right, now to finish the crash course in the Witch World. The nation of High Hallack directly influences the second story in the book. Miss Norton once said that High Hallack was based on America, as suggested by the fact that High Hallack is in the Western hemisphere of the Witch World. Its geography is composed of a patchwork of independent valley dales – called simply the Dales of High Hallack – ruled by various medieval lords. In that way, the Dales seem somewhat reminiscent of the states.

High Hallack has no one group of rulers and no one ruler: each Dale is ruled by a lord and his family and no one gets to tell them how they ought to run it. There is also no united group in the Dales that wields Power, as the Witches in Estcarp did. Though some in High Hallack possess Power, they are mostly Wise Women. Others who have some Power may be among the ruling Dale families, but if so their Power is often either an ancient gift or an ancient curse. To the west of the Dales is the Waste, where a great many remnants of strange, bygone peoples – who most certainly did wield Power (and lots of it) – are still found and felt. Most people in High Hallack do not like the Waste and will not go into it if they can possibly avoid doing so. Those who do enter the Waste come back changed, for better or worse.

In the preceding novels, High Hallack had experienced an invasion from a country north of Estcarp called Alizon. Alizon and Estcarp do not get along in the least, so when invaders from another world – the Kolder – tried to conquer both Estcarp and High Hallack, they enlisted the help of Alizon.

Estcarp was familiar with Alizon and had less trouble with that country than High Hallack had fighting this foreign enemy armed with alien weapons. High Hallack finally beat the Hounds of Alizon (they are apparently called Hounds because their families and clans are set up like dog packs; they actually refer to their siblings as ‘littermates’) and drove them out of the Dales. Still, the prolonged war depleted the manpower of most of the Dales and left many holdings without a ruler.

The short stories in Storms of Victory are preceded and ended with reflections from a former border warrior of Estcarp named Duratan. The book begins with Duratan recounting his life and the events that led him to the place of records where he has begun living. This place is a worn down, centuries old keep called Lormt (do not ask me how to pronounce it; I make do the best I can with it). At Lormt he begins to take an interest in chronicling the stories of those who briefly benefit from the inhabitants’ hospitality. Duratan soon discovers he has some of the Talent – the Power the Witch women wield.

The Witches maintain that no man can wield the Power; if men do, then they are evil. Now, this cultural idea has been stood on its head from the first Witch World novel onward, but that does not make the Witches’ any more amenable to men who have Talent. Since Duratan is so far out of the way at Lormt, he has nothing to fear from the Witches. And soon he does not have to worry about them at all.

An enemy country to the south of Estcarp, Karsten, amasses an army to march on and invade them. Karsten has been about as friendly to Estcarp as Alizon has been over the years, so this attack is hardly unexpected. But there is no way that Estcarp has a prayer of matching Karsten army to army. The fact that Estcarp has been fighting on three fronts – northward with Alizon, southward with Karsten, and then with the alien Kolder – for years means they have few fighting men left to defend them. Even the Falconers are not numerous enough to stand against all the invaders. The only barrier between Estcarp and Karsten’s army is the mountains that form the southern border, the mountains where the Falconers live.

So the Witches resort to a dangerous plan. They evacuate everyone – or everyone whom they can reach and will listen to them – from the mountains and the surrounding areas. This includes the tightlipped Falconers and Estcarp’s own border men. Then, once everyone who has answered the summons is out of the way, the Witches combine their shared Power. As the army from Karsten is marching through the mountains, the Witches turn them.

They do not turn the army. No, they physically twist and reshape the mountains on their southern border. But this astounding achievement comes with a heavy price, namely the lives of most of the Witches’ Council. In one move, Estcarp is saved from its southern enemy and reft of more than half of its rulers. This event is then known throughout Storms of Victory and other volumes as The Turning.

Despite the loss of so many Witches, Estcarp manages not to fall into utter chaos. The Guard Captain of Es City, the capital of Estcarp, takes command of the nation and tries to hold the country together. That is where the first short story, The Port of Dead Ships, begins.

The Port of Dead Ships introduces the reader to old faces from Norton’s previous Witch World novels: Simon Tregarth, an Earthman from World War II with Power who upset Estcarp’s idea of Power wielders; Jaelithe, his wife, a former Witch; Kemoc Tregarth, Simon’s youngest son who also wields Power; and Orsya, Kemoc’s mutant wife from an eastern country called Escore. Orsya, one of the Krogan people, needs to swim at certain hours of the day or she will literally dry up and die.

Then we are re-introduced to Koris of Gorm, a misshapen dwarf with a handsome face and fine honed war skills that earned him the position of Captain of the Guard. Gorm was an island nation off the coast of Estcarp which was captured and ‘ravished’ by the Kolder. Everyone on the island is dead; it has only a few inhabitants – the Estcarpian guards who keep watch to make sure none try to steal the alien tools remaining there. With the fall of the Witches’ Council Koris has become ruler of Estcarp in all but name, having not declared himself master of the realm. With him is his wife, Loyse of Verlaine, the daughter of a Karsten noble whose line lured ships to their destruction and plundered the cargoes from the wrecks. Hating this life, Loyse escaped to Estcarp, where she met and married Koris.

These six are in council with a Sulcar captain. The captain has word of ships being lost in the south; with the threat from Karsten eliminated and Alizon reduced to petulant raiding on the northern border, the interim of peace has allowed the Sulcar to begin practicing their merchant skills again. Except that a handful of ships, sailing south in search of old and new trade, have been found adrift. More disturbing, the ships have been found with their cargoes intact but the entirety of their crews gone. There are no bodies, no signs of struggle. The ships have been found completely empty of human life. A scary find indeed, especially for those who make their life on the sea.

Since no physical trace can be found of the crews, the only answer the Sulcar can come up with is that these strange disappearances are the work of some dread Power. Despite constant remembrances of the terrible Kolder war, these ‘dead’ ships do not bear the signs of the same tools. It appears that whatever Power is the cause of the mystery is based squarely in the Witch World. The Sulcar captain has come to ask the aid of those with the Power to find the source of the dead ships.

However, he has found no help from the remnants of the Witches’ Council. They are working hard at the moment to try and regain their former strength. Also, the blow to their numbers has dealt a worse blow to their pride. They have had their way for too long and, now that they can no longer have it, they refuse to do anything other than nurse their wounds and build their power up again.

So the captain has come to this council particularly to ask Jaelithe’s help. Although she is no longer officially a Witch, she has not lost her Power, and he is hoping that she can find out what is causing the problem.

However, Jaelithe does not have the skill for a ‘farseeing’ of such magnitude. But the narrator of Dead Ships, the Sulcar woman Destree M’Regnant, does. Destree also has the ability to read a person’s future, which usually turns out ill for the person she has read. This happened to the captain’s brother, so he hates her for simply existing, and the dire readings of her particular Power has made her an outcast among the clannish Sulcar her entire life. Despite all this, Jaelithe is determined to have her help whether the captain likes it or not.

Destree ‘farsees’ a place to the south, the place where the ships have been disappearing. In doing this she discovers volcanoes spawning new islands somewhere in the same direction. But these events are not nature-born. Something, some Dark Power, is building these new islands for a purpose. And any purpose of something of the Dark is bad, bad news.

Maintaining order in the country and along its borders with the forces of Estcarp so thinly stretched, Koris can spare few men to fight this Power. Nor can the remaining Witches be roused out of their collective sourness to go and see to the problem. That leaves the present company – excluding Koris and his wife, since they are both needed to maintain rule in Estcarp – to search out and destroy this evil power.

Despite the Sulcar’s hostility toward Destree, Jaelithe makes it clear that the other woman is not staying behind. Knowing it’s better not to argue with a Witch, as much because they are often right as for the fact that doing so can be very unhealthy, the Sulcar captain grudgingly allows Destree to join the voyage.

The Port of Dead Ships is the longer of the two short stories. On a personal note, I would recommend that no one read Dead Ships at night. Later on, it can get a little creepy. So if you are not the type of person who enjoys creepy stories, put the book down when it gets dark, otherwise you might just jump at every creak and bump in the night you hear. Norton was good at being scary when she chose to be.

The second short story in Storms of Victory is by Pauline M. Griffin, a writer whose stories were published with the approval of Miss Norton in her books. Miss Griffin’s story is called Seakeep and has something of a cliffhanger ending. Nevertheless, it is one of the BEST additions to the Witch World universe I have ever read, and it is this story I have been working up to describing.

Seakeep is the name of the story and of a small Dale in High Hallack. This Dale faces the sea (hence its name, Seakeep), and it is ruled by a woman. This is uncommon among the Dalespeople, since women from the ruling houses of the Dales are typically married off to increase their family’s land holdings. While Una of Seakeep was indeed married – well, that’s jumping ahead of the story.

Seakeep was spared the ravages of the war with Alizon because it was too far north and too secluded to be much of a military threat or advantage. Despite not being physically devastated by the enemy, the Dale still lost many of its men during the war. The people of High Hallack learned early on that Alizon intended to wipe them out. So the Dale lords banded together to fight their enemy and, eventually, they drove them back across (or into) the sea. Seakeep’s few remaining men returned home, including Una’s father. But he could no longer rule his Dale; an injury during one of the final battles of the war had cost him the use of one arm and both legs.

This led to him relying on Una and her mother, who died sometime later, to run his Dale. This was something that Una proved more than capable of doing. However, fearing that some outsider might force himself on his daughter, who was unwed, Una’s father married her off to his best friend and second-in-command, Lord Ferrick.

Since marriage alliances are the norm in the Dales, Una did not mind this turn of events. Also, she had known Ferrick her entire life, which was more than many Holdwomen could claim. And because the marriage meant no greedy outsiders would gain control of her beloved Seakeep, she was content with the arrangement.

But things soon took a turn for the worse as an epidemic struck the Dales. In some places, people got sick and then recovered to go about their lives once more. In other places, including Seakeep, many died of the disease. Most of Seakeep’s men, including the hale ones who had just attained manhood, went down fast and hard. Una also came down with the disease but fought her way out of it, only to find in waking that her husband and father had succumbed.

For a time afterward, Una was able to run her Dale just fine. But then the very thing she and her father had had the foresight to dread happened; a tyrannical Dale lord began trying to win Una’s consent to marriage. Knowing that he was a tyrant would have been enough to turn Una against him, but there is more. She has one chance: find a suitably large company of ‘blank shields’ – mercenaries for hire – to turn back the avaricious Daleholder’s larger force. And Una knows precisely what kind of blank shields will do the trick:


This is a really bad idea, right? Falconers hate women. The idea that one of them – let alone a whole company of them – would swear sword oath to a woman is enough to make many, even among the Dalespeople, think that you are insane. But of the other companies of blank shields who still remain in High Hallack, Una knows next to nothing. How can she be sure that such blank shields, even if they were Dalesmen, would not be more trouble than they were brought in to fight?

Falconers are not such an unknown. Once given, their oath is for keeps. They would sooner die than violate it in spirit or letter. If Una can get even a small company to guard her Dale, she need not fear that they will turn against her or abuse her people. The problem with the plan, of course, is whether or not the Falconers will even listen to her, let alone swear sword oath to her. If she cannot gain their support, then Seakeep is doomed.

In Linna, a port town on the coast of High Hallack, a Falconer captain named Tarlach and his company of five hundred Falconers are trying to decide if they should ship back to Estcarp or remain in the Dales for some more time.

But more rests on Tarlach’s mind than this problem. Since the Turning, the southern mountains of Estcarp’s borders have become unlivable. Foul creatures of the Dark, spilling over from the east or roused by the upheaval of the mountains, roam the area. The Eyrie – the Falconer men’s base in these mountains – is long gone, and the forced twisting of them has rearranged and made them treacherous. Without a base, without a home, the Falconer race may be doomed to extinction.

Tarlach is soon roused from his gloom when fighting breaks out nearby as a gang of thugs attempts to capture a traveler. Thinking the traveler is a youth because of ‘his’ clothes, Tarlach and his lieutenant help the bystander fend off the attack. A few streets later, though, they learn they have rescued a woman – Una of Seakeepdale.

I will avoid spoiling the rest of the story. If you want to know more, find Storms of Victory and start reading! And, as I mentioned before, Seakeep’s ending is pretty much a cliff hanger. If you enjoy Seakeep, then you will want to find the sequel to Storms of Victory, which contains the second half of the story. The sequel to Storms is Flight of Vengeance.

I know neither half of this story will appeal to everyone, but all the same, I highly recommend both volumes. Have fun reading, everyone! I know I will!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian