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The High House
James Stoddard
Warner Aspect, 321 pages

Art: Bob Eggleton
The High House
James Stoddard
James Stoddard has had fiction and articles published in such magazines as Amazing Stories and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. He is an instructor of music recording and engineering at a junior college in Texas. The High House is his first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
Lin Carter Tribute Page

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Young Carter Anderson is the son of Lord Anderson, Master of Evenmere, also known as the High House: a House with many rooms and many secrets, a House which is not owned, but chooses its Master. One day Carter is menaced by a stranger, dressed like an English bobby -- not a bobby at all, it turns out, but a creature without a face, with malicious intent toward the House and everyone in it, particularly Carter himself. For Carter's own protection, his father decides to send him away from Evenmere.

Fourteen years later, Carter is summoned back. His father has long been missing; Evenmere needs a Master, and Carter must be tested to see if he is the one. A group called the Society of Anarchists, led by Carter's old nemesis the Bobby, has placed the House under siege. The Society is not merely a group of revolutionaries, but representatives of the forces of Entropy. Their goal is to destroy the balance of the universe, of which the High House is, in some mysterious sense, the prime mover. If its lamps are not lit, suns go out; if its clocks are not wound, time runs down. Carter is thrown into a desperate struggle to foil the Anarchists' attacks, to learn the House's secrets so that he can properly defend it, and to find his missing father, who has the magical weapons Carter needs to protect Evenmere and the many strange realities it holds.

In his Author's Note, Stoddard pays tribute to writer and editor Lin Carter, who did a great deal to revive many of the almost- forgotten fantasy authors of the 19th and early 20th centuries. ( Ed. Note -- Lin Carter was the editor for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series published in the late 60s-early 70s.) And indeed there's much of the classic fantasy about The High House, with its formal prose style, amazing adventure, and heroic characters triumphing over incredible odds. In contrast to the increasing trend in fantasy to seek authenticity by focusing on real-world details and topical issues, The High House unapologetically situates itself entirely outside mundane reality, plunging the reader fully into an other-world of symbol and legend.

Evenmere is a marvelous creation, a house that contains seemingly infinite space within itself, enfolding other lands and other nations, home to personified natural forces and clocks that control time itself. Its endless variety of architectural detail is evoked by Stoddard with great skill and inventiveness: one can almost hear the boards creaking underfoot, or smell the dust and cobwebs in the abandoned rooms, or feel the strange tropic atmosphere in the great chambers where the Tigers of Naleewuath live.

Unfortunately, this very skill works against the story to some extent. The house, for all its extravagance, is an extremely solid creation. Even the most fantastic of Stoddard's inventions exist within literal rooms or hallways or attics. This concreteness makes it a bit difficult to connect the physical Evenmere of the characters' experience with the cosmic significance the House is meant to have. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that the big question -- What Does It All Mean? -- is never really answered. It's certainly true, as Stoddard has his characters say, that one doesn't have to know everything; but the story raises too many questions to leave them all so open. "What is High House?" the characters ask each other, throughout the book. A mathematical construct of the universe? A symbol? A map? Something else? Each time, they conclude that they just don't know. By the third or fourth repetition, one begins to suspect that perhaps it's not only the characters, but the author who isn't sure.

Still, though these questions nagged at me, they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel. The High House is a strongly-written, swiftly-paced adventure, thoroughly entertaining overall. Beside the master fantasists to which it pays tribute, it stands up very well.

Copyright © 1998 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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