Tuesday, April 08, 2008

BOOKS | The Riddle-Master's Game (Possible Spoiler)

In the Riddle-Master trilogy, Patricia A. McKillip built a grand fantastic world, filled with engimatic characters that lived century-long lives with immense powers. Shape-shifters walked the land, knowledge comes from the learning of riddles.

There are no more wizards in the land since the city of Lungold – the centre of learning for wizards, was destroyed centuries ago. Yet the riddles of the land is filled with the tales of these wizards and magic from long ago.

The people reveres the High One – a mysterious, god-like figure that rules over the land through the land-law. The king of each country holds land-law. Through land-law the king is inextricably bonded to the land and its protection. He senses and awareness of his realm is heightened, almost on a psychic level.

The High One, from the beginning, had left men free to find their own destinies. His sole law was land-law, the law that passed like a breath of life from land-heir to land-heir; if the High One died, or withdrew his immense and intricate power, he could turn his realm into a wasteland.

The High One is never seen; his will is made known through his harpist – a similarly enigmatic figure named Deth, a man who had lived for centuries unaged. One day, Deth came to Morgon of Hed. He came to offer the High One's condolescences on Morgon's parents' death, and to find, on the bequest of the King of An, the one who solved the riddle of Peven. The King of An had sworn a long time ago, one who solves the riddle of Peven will win the hand of his daughter, Raederle – known as "the second most beautiful woman in An." (One is curious on how does one measure beauty? With a rule or a measuring jug?)

Morgon of Hed, the new King of Hed, has solved the riddle of Peven without telling anyone. He is a farmer-king, a true-hearted but very gifted young man born with three stars on his face. As he goes forth to answer the riddle of the three stars on his face, he suddenly finds himself pursued by unnameable shape-shifters who tried to kill him. There he learns the five riddles behind the three stars on his face, and a name given to him before he was born: Star-Bearer:

Who is the Star-Bearer and what will he loose that is bound?

What will one star call out of silence, one star out of darkness, and one star out of death?

Who will come in the time's ending and what will he bring?

Who will sound the earth's harp, silent since the Beginning?

Who will bear stars of fire and ice to the Ending of the Age?

A prophecy speaks of the coming of the Star-Bearer and of a harp and a sword both bearing three stars.

Morgon ends up acquiring great power – at great pain, and great cost. He also learns of the return of an ancient enemy of the land, and somehow their return – as well as the key to defeating them – is tied up with the three stars on his face.

McKillip wove Mogon's journey much like a riddle: with each riddle untangled, more riddles unfold – and one person can wear many masks.


But most of all, I love the theme of vengeance and love in the story. Morgon is saved by his gentleness, his love for the land and the people in it. His love saves him from being broken inspite of great suffering, and it saves him time and again from turning into a murderer.

Towards the end, one of the character said to Morgon:

'…When you broke free of Ghisteslwchlohm's power, why was it me you hunted, instead of him? He took the power of land-law from you. I took your trust, your love. You pursued what you valued most …'

'You and the Morgol kept my heart from turning into stone. I was forced to turn everything I had ever said to her into a lie. And you turned it back into truth. You were that generous with someone you hated.'

In a Revenger's Tale, there can only be two endings: Tragedy or Forgiveness. The answer to The Riddler-Master's Game is forgiveness – or perhaps something greater: love. It was the love Morgon carries in him, a farmer-king of a peaceful land, that made it possible to turn a lie into truth, betrayal into love.


Corinne said...

I really loved this trilogy. Great review :)

Carl V. Anderson said...

I discovered Patricia A. McKillip, and to the best of my recollection discovered the fantasy genre, when my younger brother bought me The Riddle-master of Hed from our local mall when I was around 11 or 12. He just picked a book that he thought I might enjoy. Did I ever. I devoured it and quickly bought the next two and devoured them. It seems like an age went by before McKillip started cranking out books again and I have always enjoyed reading her work. One of these days I will revisit this series that was such an important part of my formative years of reading.

Ana S. said...

I only read as far as the spoilers warning, but this sounds really good. I've been meaning to read McKillip for so long. This sounds like a good place to start.

PS: I love the Jeanette Winterson quote on your sidebar.

darkorpheus said...

Corinne Thanks, actually, the review is a little rushed. I decided if I don't rush it out, I'll never write anything about it.

Carl There will always be some books that hold a significant place in our hearts, because we read them when we are still young and impressionable -- and they helped shape our tastes, and maybe even who we are in the process.

I'm glad to have read the Riddle-Master series. Even though I am no longer in my formative years! ;)

Nymeth Oh, the Riddler-Master trilogy is definitely a good read. If you can find the time, it's worth it.

I think Jeanette Winterson is one of those writers who writes closest to my heart.