This is actually a trilogy, but when I was younger, I read the first book, but a good bit of it, I didn’t quite follow, though the opening stuck with me. Then, my mother sent me up a box of my books from her home and, among them, was an aging paperback copy of the first book, which I re-read while visiting a good friend in Chicago.
As it turns out, the only way to really read it now is to buy a reprint in an omnibus volume. Of course, I’m writing this because I’ve finally finished said volume.
McKillip is lovely, delicate writer, with a soft touch that is similar to Ursula K. LeGuin. I don’t think it would surprise any reader of Riddle-Master that it feels very similar in tone to the Earthsea novels (including being more than a little feminist, even though the hero of Riddle-Master is male – though so was the protagonist of two of three original Earthsea novels).
The story, which gets too complicated to really summarize here, struggles after the first book. Things don’t feel properly explained and everything rushes towards to a conclusion that, while not exactly deus ex machina, does not feel properly earned.
The coolest idea, undoubtedly, are the importance of riddles to the culture of the world. When the story begins, magic is gone – or, at least, wizards are gone. But a connection to that former world is maintained through the study of ancient lore. These ‘riddles’ are almost never actually riddles, but more like trivia from antiquity. The theme of these riddles as being vital secrets for understanding one’s self, one’s world, and one’s predicament is consistent throughout and I never ceased to find the concept rewarding.
What I most took away is a desire to re-read another one of her books, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. I think I was living in Florida when I read it. I remember being in my mother’s car and reading it after she had bought it for me at a used bookstore.