The Complete Lythande, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
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In this anthology of twenty stories, published over the course of 18 years in various magazines and collections, Lythande is a wanderer among fantasy worlds, a mercenary magician and minstrel, working for board, lodging and pay. Lythande is an Adept in the Temple of the Blue Star, a society of magicians who have pledged to fight on the side of Law against Chaos in the last battle at the end of the world. Accordingly, every such Adept is essentially immortal as long as the vows are upheld. There are three major vows - to fight always in support of Law, to never eat or drink in sight of men, and to maintain a personal secret, the key to each individual's power and invulnerability. However, if these vows are broken, then the individual loses the magic and may be killed.
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.
Good review! DId you like it as a collection or not?
I found it fairly average. Each individual tale was ok, but it didn't work as a book for me. My Review
"Muddled. A collection of fairly and very short stories written over a number of years featuring Lythande the magician. What is most annoying about them is a lack of internal consistency. Sometimes she plays the lute, sometimes she has a harp, sometimes swords, sometimes daggers. Sometimes only she is forbidden to eat int he sight of men, sometimes it's all Adepts. (this is quite a mjor point). And all the women who can immediately spot that she's a woman, while none of the men can
Many of the stories are very short indeed, and so lack any kind of point at all. Lythande also tends to leave the moment she's completed her assigned task, leaving the consequences of any such intervention unknown. Which is a shame because it's the consequences of magic that re the important bit. There is little if any consisitency in the magic scheme either. Lythande is and Adept, one of the highest mages around, but she doens't know more than a herb witch on occasions.
Most of the stories are about the trouble a secret female magician can get into when the profession is usually open to men, and she is disguised as one. Apart from all the other female magicians she meet, who just happen not to be of her Order. It isn't clear what the difference is. She end's up crossing various women only barriers etc, and having to explain without lying how she can do so. Ditto various schemes to embroil her with courtesans and the like. Plus a few more mundane concerns where gender is not so openly the issue, beating evil sorcerers, negotiating with demons and the like. Again only the consequences are interesting and we so seldom get to see them.
As inidividual controubtions to other anthologies looking at other aspects these would probably work ok, but they don't suceed as a volume in their own right. Too confused, lacking internal consistency or direction. Not actually bad, but I was expecting more from a short story collection. None of them are individually amazing."
You know, I liked your review, too! I agree with you on each of the details you brought up. You've hit the nail on the head with your question to me, I believe. I think every story was fine when it was published separately, but I do not think it works as a collection. There is minimal effort to make the reader care for Lythande and that just doesn't fly in a collection of stories devoted only to her.
On the other hand, while I have read and enjoyed some of Bradley's foray into the Arthurian mythos, I haven't read many of her short stories and had never read any of the Lythande stories. Having a collection of them allowed me to more fully clarify my appreciation of Bradley.
I still think the publisher erred in gathering together nothing but Lythande stories. I think it would have worked better to publish a more varied sample of Bradley short stories with some Lythande in the mix. That would more closely approximate the environment in which Bradley intended the Lythande stories to appear - as part of a melange of fantasy stories in which Bradley's contribution is comprised of short examples of the kind of scrapes a magician can get into and how she extricates herself by her wiles as well as by her magic.
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