Riddle-Master Book Review: Patricia McKillip's Fantasy Trilogy

by tandemonimom

Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster Trilogy - Riddle-Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, Harpist in the Wind - is a must-read for any fantasy fan.

The Riddle-Master Trilogy

An epic fantasy trilogy you need to read!

Everyone knows that there are no riddles from Hed, and no magic either ... until Morgon, heir to the land-ruler of Hed, is born with three stars on his forehead and a curiosity that impels his father to send him to study at the college of Riddle-Masters in Caithnard. Though Morgon is a superb riddle-master, winning honors at a younger age than any other and even winning a centuries-old riddle game with Peven the wraith, he can find no knowledge of three stars at the college, and no riddles about three stars either. When his father dies unexpectedly and he inherits the land-rule, he goes home to the peace of Hed.

But ancient forces begin to disturb the tranquility of Hed, threatening not only Morgon but his future, his family, the peace of Hed itself, and possibly the entire Six Kingdoms of the High One. Morgon has little choice but to set out on a quest to answer the unanswered riddle, even though he knows it will cost him his name and possibly his life.


The Complete Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip in one volume.
Ace Trade
$18.69  $13.12

Three Things to Love About the Riddlemaster Series

Riddlemaster is Patricia McKillip's first published series.

1. Though this is a young man-on-a-quest story, he's no cocky princeling, sure of his destiny. He's a working prince of a farming community, and he wants it to stay that way. As he is forced into his quest, Morgon has no specific prophecy to fulfill and has no idea what he is supposed to do or how to do it. He must, unwillingly, give up as much as he gains, and lose almost everything precious to him, to win the right to become a person he never wanted to be in the first place.

2. Frequent strong female characters (including a powerful land-ruler who is surrounded by warrior women), none of them waiting around to be rescued. Though the right to Raederle's hand in marriage was won in a riddle-match, she is no prize to be passed without her will. Indeed, Raederle turns out to have a destiny as huge and overpowering as Morgon's, and possibly at odds with it, and they must work out the interweaving of those destinies through a great deal of difficulty. The second book of the trilogy is Raederle's story, as the first book is Morgon's.

3. Real originality in the backstory of this series. This is a true "other" place, not just a medieval Earth with dragons or wizards. The intricacies of the mystical land-rule alone are worth the story! This is McKillip's first published series, and the writing in the first book could have been a bit tighter, but even so it is a compelling story, and the writing improves with each volume to the exciting climax.

Read below for a brief synopsis of each book and for a word to parents. Sorry, no spoilers, so there isn't much on the last book!

More About Raederle and Other Strong Female Characters!

I love a good book where the female lead doesn't always wait around for the male lead to rescue her. These are some of my favorite strong female book characters!

If You Like These Epic Fantasies ...

Make room on your epic fantasy saga shelf for the Riddlemaster of Hed! Patricia McKellip's ability to create a world that is wholly "other" and completely unlike reality is on par with these sci fi / fantasy classics.
A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cy...
$17.15  $12.5
Dune, 40th Anniversary Edition (Dune ...
Ace Trade
$12.01  $9.99
J.R.R. Tolkien Boxed Set (The Hobbit ...
Del Rey
$31.96  $16.00

Quotes from the Riddle-Master Series

Don't profane crows; some of my ancestors were crows.

   ~ Rood of An

I never heard that destiny is of any use at all to a Prince of Hed.

   ~ Morgon, Prince of Hed

Will you wait for me in Hed? I think I can get us both safely that far.
Then will you --
All right; then --
Then will you come with me? Because I could not bear to leave you.

   ~ conversation between Morgon and Raederle

Quotations from Patricia A. McKillip, Riddle of Stars 

More Quotes from Riddle-Master
Patricia McKillip's fantasy masterpiece Riddle-Master of Hed is full of wonderful lines. Here are a few best quotations from the trilogy.

The Riddle-Master of Hed

Book One of the Riddle-Master Trilogy
The Riddle-Master of Hed (The Quest of the Riddle-Master ...
Ballantine Del Rey
Only $11.61

Riddle-Master Book One: Synopsis

The quest of the riddlemaster begins.

Unlike any other person from the farming island of Hed, Morgon has a curiosity and drive to ask - and answer - questions. He spent three years learning at the College of Riddle-Masters in Caithnard, and even challenged the wraith of Peven, Lord of Aum, in a centuries-old riddle game, winning the crown of Peven and the right to the hand of Raederle, the second-most beautiful woman in the three portions of An.

But since the death of his father he has come home to take up his duties as the land-ruler of Hed. His unknown destiny, however, will not leave him in the peace of Hed, but drives him out to seek the answer to the unanswered riddle: why was he born with three stars on his forehead, and why were there no answers in Caithnard? Morgon's innate desire to understand and find answers is at war with the equally strong desire to stay in the land he loves and do the work of a land-ruler. An ancient, unknown enemy who apparently understands the stars on his head and desires to kill him before he can find out the answers himself tips the balance. He sets out for Erlenstar Mountain, to ask his riddles of the High One.

As he feared before setting out on the journey, Morgon finds he cannot get to Erlenstar Mountain and be the same simple land-ruler of peaceful Hed as he was when he began. And what if all he finds awaiting him at the end of his quest is betrayal?

Riddle-Master Book Two: Synopsis

The Heir of Sea and Fire

Morgon, the Prince of Hed, is missing. When the power of the land-rule of Hed passes to his brother Eliard - something that can happen only at the death of a land-ruler - the shock sends everyone off course. His young sister Tristan, on her way to find out what happened to him, runs into two more women doing the same.

The Heir of Sea and Fire

Book Two of the Riddle-Master Trilogy
Heir of Sea and Fire
A Del Rey Book

Raederle, promised by her father since birth to the man who won the riddling match and crown from the long-dead wraith Peven of Aum, is angered to realize that no one did anything to help her betrothed. She meets up with Lyra, daughter of the Morgol of Herun, who brings her warrior maidens along to help Raederle find out what happened.

The three ladies set out on a dangerous journey north to Erlenstar Mountain, not knowing what may await them on the way, or what they may find when they arrive. Raederle in particular begins to recognize that she may have a destiny as powerful - and overpowering - as Morgon's awaiting her if she has the courage to grasp it.

Harpist in the Wind

Book Three of the Riddle-Master Trilogy
Harpist in the Wind
Del Rey Books
$17.42  $29.99

Riddle-Master Book Three: Synopsis

Harpist in the Wind, by Patricia A. McKillip

The conclusion of the trilogy of the Riddle-Master is magnificent. Morgon and Raederle, together, complete their quest and each finds a destiny that could not have been dreamed of in days before. The truth of secrets is revealed, the answers to the riddles are uncovered, the power and enmity of the ancient enemy is broken, and the mystery of the High One is unraveled.

Have You Read Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster Trilogy?

A Word to Parents

This is a good series to give your kids.

As a homeschool mom and parent of teens and preteens, I appreciate a note about the suitability of a story for my kids. This is a good story to give your teens and even preteens, assuming they are up to the weight of the narrative, which is quite convoluted at times.

There is no foul language in this story, and zero sexual tension, though it is partly the love story of Morgon and Raederle. Any possible sexual encounters are hinted at so delicately that many adult readers will miss the reference.

There is swordplay and violence, on a par with what you might read in The Lord of the Rings.

More About Riddle-Master

If you have read Riddle-Master and want a crib sheet; or if you just want to learn a little more about the story, check here!
Patricia McKillip's fantasy masterpiece Riddle-Master of Hed is full of wonderful lines. Here are a few best quotations from the trilogy.
As with many involved science fiction and fantasy works, Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster readers sometimes benefit from a crib sheet. WARNING! Possible plot spoilers!

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Updated: 07/04/2011, tandemonimom
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Comments: Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master Trilogy

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Treasures By Brenda on 06/15/2011

This trilogy by Patricia McKillip does sound intriguing.

Dianne on 06/14/2011

This sounds like a great story. I might have to read it myself!

Susan52 on 06/14/2011

You find such interesting books. This is great information for parents and others who want to know more about this series.

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