The Riddle-Master Trilogy, by Patricia McKillip

The Riddle Master of Hed (1976), Heir of Sea and Fire (1977), and Harpist in the Wind (1979), by Patricia McKillip .

Over at Angieville, you can find Retro Friday. I'm taking part today, writing about a trilogy of books that I have loved for 29 years...ever since Cathy Webster brought the first of the series to school one day in ninth grade. I was siting on her left, reading over her shoulder, this page:
"The wizard's thin mouth twisted. "I can give you nothing. Har should have known better than to send you for me. He has two good eyes; he should have seen."

"I don't understand." [Morgan] was beginning to feel cold. "You gave Har riddles; I need answers to them. Why did you leave Lungold? Why have you hidden even from Har?"

"Why would anyone hide from the tooth of his own heart?" The lean hands shook him a little. "Can you not see? Not even you? I am trapped. I am dead, speaking to you." (The Riddle Master of Hed, page 166).
And so on, for five glorious minutes until assembly began...

I didn't know who Har was, where Lungold was, or what questions Morgan had. But I knew I wanted to find out. And even though I have no idea whatever happened to Cathy Webster, I still have the (very battered) copies of three books of this trilogy that my mother bought me the next weekend.

The books tell of Morgan, Prince of Hed, who leaves his peaceful island to find answers to the riddles that surround him. Why is his forehead marked with three stars? What is it about them that has drawn him into a world where unanswered riddles have turned deadly? Travelling through strange and enchanted lands, he meets Riddle Masters who guard what has survived of the realm's history, Land Rulers who feel the pulse of their lands in their minds and hearts, and ghosts of a lost magic thought to have vanished long ago. Now that lost magic seems to be coming back to life, and the struggle will tear the realms apart. Unless Morgan can answer the riddles of his destiny...

Learning to play a harp with three stars, learning to shapeshift, and to throw his mind across the world, he runs one step ahead of those who want him dead. And journeying also, to find him, is Raederle, a beautiful young woman he had been friends with when his world made sense. Now she too is facing truths that will change her forever...
"She touched a flame then, let it lay in her hand like a flower. "Look," she said breathlessly, and closed her hand over it, extinguishing it, before the wonder in her broke the binding between them, separating them, and it hurt her. The night fell around her again, as the tine flame died. She saw Deth's face, motionless, unreadable, his lips parted.

"Another riddle," he whispered." (Heir of Sea and Fire, p 124)
The Riddle Master of Hed tells of Morgan's first journey, looking for answers. Heir of Sea and Fire is Raederle's story. Harpist in the Wind brings the two together, moving ever closer to the heart of the mystery and to the day when the riddles will all be answered, and the fate of their world determined.

Of all MacKillip's books, I think these are the most re-readable, in the sense of telling coherent, more or less linear stories, that one keeps coming back to because one loves the characters. The beautiful prose that I love in her writing is here, the deep sense of mystery and wonder in her imaginary lands is ever present, and every re-reading I find something new in her worldbuilding to delight me. But mostly I re-read these because Morgan and Raederle remain two of my best fantasy friends from when I was young...


  1. I love that trilogy too! I read it when I was young and I reread it every now and then. Funny, I never could get into McKillip's other books though I remember loving her Forgotten Beasts of Eld. The last time I tried to read it, I couldn't, but I can still happily reread Morgon and Raederle's stories....

  2. Charlotte, what a wonderful review! I'm so fond of this trilogy and I love the account of you reading it over your friend's shoulder at school. And I agree this is McKillip at her best.

  3. Aww! I loved these books. Thank you so much for posting about them.

  4. I love Patricia McKillip, and want to go back and read these gems I've missed... so many books, so little time, as always.


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