With the new kittens, I’ve been spending a bit more time at home, keeping an eye on them, instead of going out. As a result, I’ve been on a bit of a reading tear. I recently read two books (technically four since one was an omnibus):
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer was very disappointing. I saw the trailer for the movie, and wanting to read the book before the movie came out, I dove into this first book of the Southern Reach trilogy. The first thing that surprised me about it was how short it was. At only about 210 pages or so, I was expecting this to be longer. Despite that, the premise of the book really intrigued me, so I was excited to read it. I ended up being very disappointed, and the book was a slog to get through. Not very much happened, even less was explained, and there is almost no characterization. I feel like the idea behind the book had great potential, but the way the story was told was disappointing. Now I’m not sure if I’ll even bother with the second and third books of the trilogy.
The second book I read was the Riddle-Master omnibus by Patricia McKillip. This omnibus contains all three short novels in the Riddle-Master trilogy: The Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind. Similarly to Annihilation, each book is only about 200 pages or so, so the entire trilogy is about 600 or so pages, shorter than one George R. R. Martin novel.
This is actually the third time I’ve read this entire trilogy. The first time I read it was back in 1992, when the summer before my Bar-Mitzvah, my parents rented a house in Jerusalem, and we spent the entire summer living there and traveling around Israel. The house we rented didn’t have a TV or a computer, but whomever the owners were, they had an entire bookcase filled with classic science fiction and fantasy novels. I was in absolute heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever read as many books as I read that summer. I devoured the Foundation Trilogy, the first couple Pern novels, Dune, the aforementioned Riddle-Master trilogy, and more.
Since reading the books in 1992, I had actually forgotten the names of them, and had been somewhat futilely searching for them, wanting to own a copy so I could reread it and lend them to my friends, since no one other than me had heard of the series. I had no luck in either remembering the names of the books or finding copies. Apparently, the Riddle-Master trilogy had been out of print for a long time, but was finally republished as an omnibus in 1999. Imagine my surprise and joy at seeing the omnibus at a bookstore, reading the summary, and realizing that this was the series I had read during that magical summer. That was the second time I read the trilogy.
So, I read the Riddle-Master omnibus and started lending it to my friends and they loved it just as much as I did. I lent it to one friend, and before he could return it to me, he got a job in Europe, taking the book with him to finish it, and by the time he moved back to the US, I was living in Japan teaching English. We just kept missing each other and he he’d had the book for the past 10-12 years or so. In January, I saw him for the first time since college, when he came down to VA for MAGFest, and he returned the omnibus to me. After finishing Annihilation, and having such a bad taste in my mouth from that book, I decided to reread the Riddle-Master trilogy for the third time.
The books, written in the 1970s, are very Tolkien-esque in their writing style, without being Tolkien-esque in their plots. The Riddle-Master trilogy is rightly held to be one of the classics of fantasy, and Patricia McKillip is an amazing writer, having won multiple World Fantasy Awards Locus Awards, among others. Reading this trilogy for the third time, this time in my 30s, as opposed to the first time when I was 12, or the second time when I was in my early 20s, I got so much more out of them and enjoyed these books like never before. Everything about them is just… magical. There is a lyricism to her prose that just sucks you in. The writing is just beautiful and evocative. The world-building is subtle, giving you hints and bits and pieces of the backstory.
The story is somewhat cliched at this point, but considering when it was written in the 1970s, was different from other fantasy books at the time. One hero of the trilogy is the typical reluctant farmer, thrust into mystery and greatness, but instead of wanting adventure, he fights against it, wanting only to go back to his farm and raise pigs. In the second book in the trilogy, the focus shifts to three young women on their own quest, which was probably quite provocative and revolutionary at the time. In the 1970s, I doubt there were many books with strong women protagonists.
Without wanting to give away any spoilers, I cannot recommend this book/series enough. If you like fantasy, strong writing, and great characters read this. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Sorry for the length of this post. I just can’t praise this trilogy enough.