Review – The Riddle-master of Hed

Cover of The Riddle-master of Hed by Patricia McKillipThe Riddle-master of Hed, Patricia A. McKillip

This is beautifully written, as all of Patricia McKillip’s work is. However, something in the density of it makes it difficult — not to read; I sped through it, in that sense, but to understand exactly what it going on and how we should feel about it. I’ve had that problem with one or two of McKillip’s other books, so I think it’s something about her style which may or may not be a problem for other people. I wouldn’t actually start here, with McKillip: I first fell in love with The Changeling Sea, I think, and I’d start there if I could begin with her work again.

Nonetheless, it is beautifully written and a joy to read in that sense. You might find yourself lingering over a sentence, a paragraph, because of the way it’s put together.

I can’t help but think that Le Guin’s Ged and McKillip’s Morgon have a certain amount in common. They’re both driven by their destinies, rather than following them willingly. They baulk more than a hero-type like, say, Aragorn or Frodo. Maybe slightly more in common with Bilbo, wishing he could be back home listening to his kettle sing, and Morgon especially shares that unwillingness and the sense that the goal is not really his own.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the world-building. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff here, revealed in a careful way (avoiding any info dumps like “as you know, Bob, the wizards disappeared seven hundred years ago”). But the story is so clearly unfinished, so clearly part of a trilogy — maybe not even a trilogy, I can’t see how this could be a complete book on its own in any sense, it doesn’t really come to any conclusion. So I’ll reserve broader judgement for later. Onwards!

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2 thoughts on “Review – The Riddle-master of Hed

  1. I read these three novels back after the third one came out (so a LOOONG time ago). My brother had purchased this first book for me from a local bookstore for my birthday. It was the first fantasy I can recall reading. Up until then I read a lot of science fiction and general fiction. I feel deeply for McKillip’s writing. I hadn’t read Tolkien, so I didn’t have some of the comparison stuff going on that I’ve heard people be critical about in their reviews of this.

    I do think that McKillip has a very unique style, one that I feel has evolved significantly since these were written, and it is a style that not everyone connects with. I’ve recommended her work and found people who weren’t able to get into the rhythm of her writing.

    It was fun to see this book pop on my Feedly page. I have such fond memories of the first time I read it and the Darrel Sweet covers for the three are some of my favorites of his work.

    • Huh, I don’t feel really compelled to compare it, except re: character types and how it’s not the same (and that’s fine by me).

      I love her style, but I didn’t get on with the first book of hers.

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