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Mordant's Need
The Mirror of Her Dreams / A Man Rides Through
Stephen R. Donaldson
Del Rey, 643 and 662 pages

The Mirror of Her Dreams
A Man Rides Through
Stephen R. Donaldson
Stephen R. Donaldson is the best-selling author of many books including the series: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Mordant's Need. He has received various awards, including the first prize of the British Science Fiction Society and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Reave the Just and Other Tales

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steve Lazarowitz

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Stephen R. Donaldson has a penchant for creating unlikeable protagonists. In his first series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, he gives us a leper, brought to a strange fantasy land, who adamantly insists he doesn't have the power to save the world... throughout the entire trilogy.

In The Mirror of Her Dreams, the first book of the Mordant's Need series, he gives us Terisa, a young woman brought to a strange fantasy land, who adamantly insists she doesn't have the power to save the world. I suppose she hadn't read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

Actually the word series truly can't be applied to Mordant's Need, since the sequence contains only two books, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. However, the two books, each contain two books, so depending on how you see things, you either have a two book set or a four book set. I prefer to compromise and think of it as a trilogy contained in two volumes. I suppose you could call it a duology, if you like.

Terisa, the protagonist of Mordant's Need, is unworldly, unimaginative, and not terribly aware of what's going on around her. Yet in spite of this, I care what happens to her, and to Mordant, the fantasy land she adamantly insists she can't save. In fact, I really enjoyed this book. I'm beginning to suspect if Stephen R. Donaldson wrote "blah, blah, blah" on a napkin, in crayon, I'd adore it.

It has to do with his style of writing. Mr. Donaldson puts words together in ways that make me happy I've learned to read. From the very first words, Donaldson picks me up and carries me along. Take a look for yourself...

The story of Terisa and Geraden began very much like a fable. She was a princess in a high tower. He was a hero come to rescue her. She was the only daughter of wealth and power. He was the seventh son of the lord of the seventh Care. She was beautiful from the auburn hair that crowned her head to the tips of her white toes. He was handsome and courageous. She was held prisoner by enchantment. He was a fearless breaker of enchantments.

As in all fables, they were made for each other.

Unfortunately, their lives weren't that simple.

For example, her high tower was a luxury condominium building over on Madison, just a few blocks from the park.

This is just the sort of opening that reels me in. And the quality of writing never falters. Fortunately the story line is as good as the writing.

Terisa surrounds herself with mirrors, in an attempt to prove to herself she exists. Geraden is clumsy and always getting himself into trouble. One day, he accidentally crashes into her apartment through one of the mirrors, and asks her to return with him to Mordant, and, Terisa, being the non-entity she is, can't say no. She travels through the mirror into Mordant, where mirrors don't cast reflections, but are used by wizards called imagers, who use the power of mirrors to do all sorts of interesting and improbable things.

In Mordant, mirrors are gateways to other realities. They can be used for good, such as producing water to combat a drought, or evil, by sending a stream of fire into an opposing army, or summoning some grotesque, hideous nightmare creature and setting it lose to terrorize... which is the sort of thing that's been happening more and more.

Mordant's Need is filled with political struggles. The Congery, a collection of imagers initially brought into being by King Joyse, is at the center of the plots, since it is obviously an imager that is behind the dangerous creatures that seem to be taking the Kingdom by storm. Cadwell and Alend, two neighboring countries, are ready to go to war to attack King Joyse's realm in its weakness, and still the King does nothing, nothing but play hopboard (which we know as checkers) with Adept Havelock. Without King Joyse's leadership, the Congery, and the various noble houses normally under his rule, are left to fend for themselves, often at cross purposes.

Terisa tends to grate on my nerves, particularly in her denial of her own existence. It was fine for a chapter or two, but by the halfway mark, it began to feel like suspiciously like whining. However, the rest of the plot is so intricately woven and wonderfully conceived, my lack of sympathy for the protagonist barely registered.

Mordant is alive with intrigue, plots, counter-plots, even subplots and there are plenty of interesting characters to go around. Master Eremis, a handsome and powerful imager, plays a game of his own. Master Quillon, a nervous and loyal servant of King Joyse, is horrified at what the King has become, Adept Havelock, called the King's Dastard, once a powerful imager in his own right, is now hopelessly reduced to insanity -- yes this book is filled with very real characters who populate a world steeped in detail.

Add to this some great fantasy elements, Donaldson makes the most of his "mirror magic", and you have a formula for a rousing story, awesome in construction, vivid in description and fascinating in concept.

The trade paperback re-release of Mordant's Need is not completely unexpected, nor is it unwarranted. If you didn't catch the duology the first time around, I highly suggest you add it to your book list.

Mordant's Need, in spite of its unlikeable heroine, is a winner in my book.

Copyright © 2003 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz is a speculative fiction writer, an editor, a father, a husband, an animal lover and a heck of a nice guy (not necessarily in that order). Steve lives in Moonah, Tasmania with his family and four giant spiny leaf insects. You can check out his work at http://www.dream-sequence.net.


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