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The Riddle-Master of Hed

by Patricia A. McKillip
Series: Quest of the Riddle-Master #1
229 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Jenny

A rich, dangerous fantasy that will keep you turning pages.

Plot

Unanswered riddles are nagging the mind of everyone in the realm, triggering a dangerous series of equally puzzling events: who won the Lord of Peven’s crown? who were the Earth-Masters and what destroyed them? who is instigating the mysterious uprisings? what happened to the wizards and their academy at Lungold? who are the shape-changers and why are they trying to kill a prince from Hed? why is the High One doing nothing about it?

What is the purpose of the three stars borne by Morgon, Prince of Hed?

Morality

For a young adult fantasy I was impressed by the level of morality in this book. Morgon, the best “reluctant hero” I have ever seen, is justifiably reticent to pursue the riddles that surround him and wants only to return to his farming island and see to the duties and responsibilities that belong to him. His motives are not selfish and he is a respectful character, bearing himself in the presence of both lord and lady with a grace you don’t often find in literature today. While in the nature of the plot people are not always what they seem, the distinctions of morality remain clear throughout.

Spiritual Content

Magic of various kinds plays an important role in The Riddle-Master of Hed: Morgon himself, being a land-ruler, is tied intuitively to the land and knows it intimately, deeply. Other land-rulers enjoy the same link of the soul to their land. Some characters are shape-changers; an old magicians’ academy is talked of at length; several people can perform differing levels of magic; and riddling, a philosophising kind of science, is a way to discover the meaning of life and to know where its strictures lie.

Violence

As the main character is on several people’s to-kill lists, there is opportunity for violence often. The violence is never graphic, but McKillip masterfully manages to make it jarring nonetheless.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People drink wine.

Sexual Content

None.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

People swear by Hel when they are particularly peeved.

Conclusion

I was astonished by the competence with which this story was written, the scope of it, the ease with which you are dropped into the tale without it offering any apology to you (as fantasy stories sometimes do). The characters are fantastic, the background – slowly emerging through answered riddle after painfully answered riddle – widening in splendid scope on the reader’s vision. McKillip’s style is abbreviated but rich, her world fully formed, a world unto itself. I highly recommend this book.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: 13+

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