I’ve been rereading again. One reason I don’t like Goodreads as much as Librarything is the pressure: if you get a new book and post it as “to be read” it adds it to your to-be-read shelf – and assigns it a number. 1043 is the number on there now – just a bit under one third of the books I have listed. Oh. Every time I add a book I feel guilty about rereading. For a minute.
Since I’m not going to be dictated to by a website, on I re-read. This time I’m making my way through Susan Dexter. There are two trilogies (’81-’86 and ’94-95) and one standalone novel (93) (and one I believe children’s book about Tristan’s childhood, which I’ve never gotten my hands on – yet); they all take place in the same world, over a broad (and unspecified) timespan. The second trilogy takes place first chronologically, and the books jump generations, being bound together (probably by the publisher) as the story of the war-horse Valadan, sired by the wind and magnificently immortal. The first trilogy takes place untold centuries later, bringing Valadan back from a terrible imprisonment, among other things.
I read the standalone first, and it was my first clue that it had been longer than I thought since I read these books – too long. I might have reread them, but it would have to have been at least ten years, I think, for all of them. Ten years and hundreds of books later, I’ve had plenty of time to forget almost everything: perfect.
I’ve started with The Wizard’s Shadow, which starts with a murder, or an execution. The impression is of something dark, something hunted, being pinned down and put, terribly, to death – very effective writing. It doesn’t entirely die, though – a shadow takes shelter under a rock, and settles to wait.
It has a long wait on the seldom-traveled path, until Crocken the peddlar comes along. The poor bugger has had a terrible time of it, with a string of bad luck, insult to injury, that has sent him off on a trading journey farther than he’s ever gone before to recoup losses he’s suffered. The ill luck hits him again, in the form of his bad-tempered mule and a fall … which along with knocking him out dislodges a certain rock along the trail … And when Crocken comes around he is no longer alone. His shadow is gone and has been replaced with a new one, one which, hard as it is to accept (in a good way) even in a world in which magic is common, can speak to him. It makes him a classic offer which cannot be refused: divert his path to the kingdom of Armyn, with the shadow trailing along behind, and he will be paid handsomely. If not …
Crocken knows it to be a bad bargain – the way is difficult, and long, and very much not where he was headed – but there isn’t much else he can do. He obeys, and the arduous journey is only the beginning of a complicated situation he feels completely unequipped for: a morass of motive and suspicion and very dark magic in the castle, a foreign bride for the young to-be-crowned king, and the mystery of what – who – the shadow is, or was, and what exactly it wants.
I loved it. Wizard’s Shadow, and every other book I have by Susan Dexter, is exactly what I love best in a book: intelligent, funny, wonderful characters in a beautifully created setting involved in fascinating situations. I made guesses about what was going on – guessed wrong – didn’t care, because I was enjoying the book too much. The story did not end up as I’d feared, with the typical everyone-neatly-paired-off trope, and I was glad. I hadn’t planned to move on to the Tristan books, but after Shadow I didn’t have any more of a choice than poor old Crocken: I had to keep going with Susan Dexter’s work. I only wish there was more.
ETA: There is! Get thee to Amazon!