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The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976)

by Patricia A. McKillip

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Riddle-Master Trilogy (1)

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2,086467,604 (3.96)2 / 190
In seeking the answer to the riddle of the three stars on his forehead and the three stars on the enchanted harp and sword, Morgon, Prince of Hed, goes ultimately to the High One, himself.
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English (43)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
After 12 pages or so, I was in love with Morgon, Tristan, and Eliard. I felt that I’d happily read a book about their domestic life and sibling bickering. Who needs fantasy adventures? :))) Well, this was not to be, of course.

The writing was beautiful, there was a dreamlike quality to it that tasted of magic. (It made me wonder why I hadn’t read anything by Patricia A. McKillip before.)

“…questions he could not ask struggled like trapped birds in the back of his throat.”

“Above them the sky, deep flaming blue during the day, began to stain with night. Their fire flickered back at the huge stars like a reflection.”


The magic of this world is strange, often dark, hidden, deadly, incomprehensible. I liked that, yet I wasn’t lost enough in the fairy tale - I wanted more world building, further explanations (maybe that will come in the rest of the trilogy).

The Chosen One’s destiny is done subtly and deftly enough for you not to think “not again”. I did grow tired of Morgon’s indecisiveness after a while.

There were so many characters I wanted to see more of, they were left behind too fast. (Especially the badass warrior Lyra, I wanted her to talk to Morgon more.)

The ending was very unexpected :) ( )
  Alexandra_book_life | Dec 15, 2023 |
Morgon is the prince of Hed, a small farming island. He's also a riddle-master, acknowledged for his ability to ask and answer questions since the wizards have disappeared. He only wants to stay on Hed immersed in his land rule, but the three stars on his forehead and the crown of Aum that he won in a riddle contest force him into the outer world. Shapeshifters chase him, and danger lurks as he travels to find the answers to his riddles.
This is a classic fantasy book based on Celtic mythology by the marvelous Patricia McKillip. Her books should be mentioned more and be more widely read as her writing is lyrical and descriptive. I read this a long time ago, and I'm happy to reread it once again. ( )
  N.W.Moors | Sep 21, 2023 |
I remember reading this for the first time: I was fascinated and told a friend, who also read it, and then we had to wait an entire year for the second book-- it seemed an impossibly long time! We discussed details and moaned to each other at intervals, seized the next when it arrived -- and then we had to do the same thing waiting for the third. I tried so hard to figure out clues to the next books that I even very lightly underlined possibly significant phrases. ( )
  Cathery | Jun 25, 2023 |
I'll definitely continue on to the rest of the trilogy eventually, but I was slightly disappointed. I'd heard it was something of a classic (at least by 70s fantasy standards) and while it had some unique parts, others were very typical.

My main complaint was that it was confusing. I would get lost occasionally, as important things were described quickly while descriptions of nature, etc, went on for quite awhile. ( )
  J.E.Schier | Oct 12, 2022 |
The first book is this trilogy is not one that can stand on it’s own. In some trilogies the books can have a complete story individually that has more meaning after reading the sequels, but in this case the sequels are needed to fully understand some aspects of this first entry.
This book also doesn’t have the usual fairy tale feeling of McKillip’s stories and looks more like the usual classic fantasy, which was a bit surprising. The writing is still good even if not as lyrical as it is in “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” and “The Changeling Sea”.

In this one we are introduced to Morgon, the prince of a small island called Hed, and we follow his conflict between living peacefully and rejecting his destiny or going on a quest to figure out who he is and what is his importance in the great scale of this world.

The story starts with the main character telling his brother and sister how he obtained a crown in a riddle game. Later, the harpist of the High One, who rules this world, comes to tell Morgon that a king promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever beat the game and got the crown. This angers our main character a little, but he still decides to ask the girl if she wants to marry him because as it turns out he knows her and she is the sister of a friend of his. That’s how this journey starts, but when it’s found that the main character has a greater importance than that there is a lot of advancing on the story and taking steps back because he is very reluctant to accept his supposed great destiny. Morgon was born with three stars on his forehead and because of it someone keeps trying to kill him, but there’s not much information about the reasons.

The magic and the world are still a bit vague by the end of this book. There are wizards and shape-changers in this world and riddles are extremely important and powerful, as voice and music also seem to be. This is a world that seems to have originated from the concept that knowledge is power. Even shape-changers need to learn how to transform in each shape that they want, which means that there is a different method depending on the transformation desired.

I liked the characters, but there were so many in this book and that’s not even all of them because someone were just mentioned and it’s hinted that they will show up later. There is a list at the end that helps remember who each one is, but because there isn’t much time spent with them they are not that developed. In this way, the first book looks very much like an introduction. There are bits of information about characters, world and magic, but there isn’t much depth to it yet, even though it’s hinted that there will be later on.
I did like the main character and he was the most complex of all of them. Just like all people from Hed, he is a pacifist and that is why he struggles so much with his supposed destiny that is already causing so much conflict and problems. His internal conflict can get a little annoying at times though. I also liked Deth, the High One’s harpist. He is mysterious and accompanies Morgon for the most part of his journey. The other characters also seemed interesting and have potential to be developed later.

There is a twist at the end that was not that surprising to me. However, it was surprising that the book ended the way it did. It amuses me to think that if this was a standalone everyone will be so confused about this world and these characters and then it just ends with the main character being doomed. It’s kind of great, but I am glad there is more and I am curious and excited to continue. ( )
  elderlingfae | Aug 11, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patricia A. McKillipprimary authorall editionscalculated
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sweet, Darrell K.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For Carol

the first eleven chapters
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Morgon of Hed met the High One's harpist one autumn day when the trade-ships docked at Tol for the season's exchange of goods.
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In seeking the answer to the riddle of the three stars on his forehead and the three stars on the enchanted harp and sword, Morgon, Prince of Hed, goes ultimately to the High One, himself.

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