Photo courtesy of Julie E. Czerneda
I met The Riddlemaster of Hed in the fall of 1978, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, during my grad studies in biology. The author, Patricia McKillip, I’d encountered in an undergrad course in fantasy; her book, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, was by far my favorite from that reading list, so I’d kept my eye out for more. I pounced on the mass market, the one pictured above, at the university bookstore. The Heir of Sea and Fire was there too, but it would take another year before I’d have the finale, Harpist in the Wind, in my hands. The books follow Morgon, the Prince of Hed, a humble little country, on his quest to discover the meaning of the stars embedded in his forehead and what happened to his parents, killed at sea. He is a riddlemaster, a scholar trained to use the hints and partial revelations of history to uncover the truth. His first success in a battle of riddles and wits wins him a dead king’s crown and the hand of Raederle, herself descended from shapechanging sorcerers. As Morgon and Raederle, helped by the High One’s Harpist, chase their personal mysteries, the answers disturb those long buried underground, renewing a war from the beginnings of time. To keep the peace and safe their world, they will need to solve the most terrifying riddle of all: why?
What was awesome about McKillip’s story? It marked the first time I refused to read the new one, in my hands, without rereading the previous book(s) first, a habit I’ve continued to this day, with any story I love this much. It’s not because I forget details as years pass. I don’t, not really. I think it’s to put off the moment I finish the new one. To linger, longer, in worlds I’ve grown to value, before the moment when yes, it’s done and I must leave again.