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The Complete Lythande Paperback – November 5, 2013
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About the Author
Marion Zimmer Bradley is probably best known for her Darkover novels and her best-selling Arthurian novel THE MISTS OF AVALON. In addition to her novels, Mrs. Bradley edited many magazines, amateur and professional, including Marion Zimmer Bradley's FANTASY Magazine, which she started in 1988, and an annual anthology, SWORD AND SORCERESS. For more information, see her website: www.mzbworks.com.
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Lythande's secret is the fulcrum of conflict for many of the stories. The secret is in jeopardy and the plot revolves around the difficulty this presents and the tactics taken to protect it. Because each story has been published at a different time and in a different magazine, each must review what a Blue Star Adept is, the vows and rituals it entails, and an explanation of Lythande's secret, so the reader can have an appreciation for the difficulties Lythande faces. This becomes quite repetitive for a reader of this collection.
The situations that place the secret in danger are different in each story. Examples are: a nemesis who tries to discover and expose Lythande's secret (The Secret of the Blue Star); a thief who accidentally discovers the secret (The Incompetent Magician); a magic object that clings to Lythande, but possession of it would expose Lythande's secret (Somebody Else's Magic); and a magic duel where Lythande's casting of magic would, itself, reveal the secret (The Gratitude of Kings).
Other stories make the secret a minor problem to be addressed in the course of resolving some larger conflict: A mermaid is threatening a village of fishermen who go to sea and never return. Lythande agrees to remove the danger, but the secret proves more troubling than anticipated. (The Sea Wrack); Lythande incurs the wrath of a magical creature due to her secret (The Wandering Lute).
The remaining 15 or so stories in the collection each mention the secret, but it doesn't play a real part in the conflict. These situations include a Goblin Faire (Goblin Market), being turned into a dog (Bitch), coming to an inn where the children are turned into pigs (The Walker Behind), summoning demons (The Malice of the Demon), being considered for sacrifice to a volcano (The Virgin and the Volcano), banishing invisible varmints from a farmer's silo (The Wuzzles) and many others.
Some of the stories are humorous, one or two are sardonic, a few are quite witty - their tone varies. It's quite difficult in the confines of a short story to develop character. Short stories tend to focus on plot. The conflict and any character development happens solely in support of that focus - a character must make a moral decision, an immaturity is exposed, an eccentricity acts as a turning point. However, for a series of stories about one particular character, the reader hopes to see something different about the character as the stories progress - some growth, some further definition over what motivates the person, what past difficulties may influence present circumstances, how the character feels! This doesn't happen with Lythande, who is quite one-dimensional.
The stories are, of necessity by their publishing history, episodic and tend to follow a fairly standard pattern - Lythande is wandering along a road near some woods and the weather is miserable, so finding an inn is paramount. In the inn the inhabitants are either experiencing a recent or current magical occurrence. Lythande, in exchange for a night's lodging and a meal, agrees to address the problem, maybe charging an additional fee if the problem seems large or dangerous. Lythande eats alone, plays the lute or a harp for an audience, maybe rests, then goes out to deal with the issue. All of the interest in the story falls on how the issue is resolved. We learn very little about Lythande besides the rather thin thread of the secret on which many of the stories hang. The situations, themselves, are interesting and appropriate for the worlds of Lythande, but since the reader lacks identification with Lythande, knowing very little about the character, there is no real feeling of suspense or drama developed. Some of Lythande's solutions are clever, but more frequently the problem is just resolved by the use of magic and the story ends.
Any short story collection can be uneven. Quite a few of the stories in this collection, such as The Story of the Blue Star, Somebody Else's Magic, To Kill the Undead, Fool's Fire, and The Gratitude of Kings, are witty and creative and keep the reader's interest. They make the book worth reading.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.