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Fantasy Index


A novel by Andre Norton
(1977, Star Books)

In a displaced society, a young man finds an ancient sword, rescues a man in hibernation, and relives an ancient battle, while the girl he loves faces a sorceress.


-- First reading (ebook)
February 18th to 24th, 2023


I felt like there was a lot of history that I missed before coming into this series, and there was not enough information given to properly elaborate on this culture. Only hints were given of an embattled past, and this story was a way to revisit some of what had happened. I usually love being dumped into a society, but I normally have more to go on. The story of the sword and the lost battle being refought had a lot of good introspection, but not enough detail to keep me thoroughly interested. I didn’t get to know Yonan or Crytha at all, except for their fears about being inadequate. They were used as pawns, thrown back into the past, but for what reason? If it was to show that the outcome of the battle could be changed with patience and foresight, then what did it achieve? Did anything in the present change (we never get back to the present, so it’s unknown), or did they even go to the past at all? There is too much manipulation and not enough motive.

Spoiler review:

I understand that this was written in a different time, and that fantasy was different back then, providing swashbuckling swordsmanship and a less intrusive, more sinister type of magic. It’s strange, because science fiction of the time, which has a lot of the same audience, was thoughtful with motivation to it. This book feels old, with underdeveloped characters and situations, as well as puzzling motives.

The early pages of the book tell of a huge war, a displaced people, and the constant threat of infiltration past their magical guards. Yonin and Crytha are both orphans, both half-breeds, I think. These pages are difficult to navigate, as so much information is disseminated with a particularly strange sentence structure.

The book is divided into three parts, which I assume were three novelas published in early fantasy magazines, as was the norm. The first two are from Yonin’s point of view. He is insecure about his ability to wield a sword, wishing he had the Power as apparently men did long ago in almost-forgotten ages. The plot, for what it is, picks up a bit when he falls from a long climb with a group of scouts and lands in a hidden cave. There he meets Tasli, one of the lizard-folk, and finds the hilt of an ancient sword. This he carries around with him always, and he starts having flashbacks to a life as Tolar in an age long gone. It’s said that people with unfinished business come back in another body to complete it, so that’s of course what happens. I’d imagine that there are a lot of people returning to finish deeds when they died prematurely.

When Crytha is kidnapped (in actual fact her mind is infiltrated and she leaves of her own bodily will, under a spell), Yonin and Tsali go to search for her. They know inherently that the miserable Thas have taken her, and find themselves in the underground tunnels of that diminutive and evil people. It looks like there are a lot of non-human species in this world, Witchworld, most of which were created by wayward sorcerers or spells, unconcerned with what evil they might do in their spellcasting. The Thas fell under the spell of the Shadow, an evil godlike being that never factors into the story more than something to be avoided.

While observing the Thas and Crytha, Yonin and Tsali are caught by the plant-like appendages of the Thas. Tsali escapes, but Yonin is brought to another room, where he finds a man trapped in a pillar of ice. Escaping his bonds, Yonin takes a giant icicle and fits it to the sword hilt, where it magically transforms into a hardened sword. Yonin hits at the ice column with the sword, thus freeing Uruk, a man from a long-ago era. It turns out that Uruk and Tolar were companions in that lost age, and lost a battle together. Tolar might have thrown himself to die in the river after Uruk was captured.

Together, along with Tsali, they beat off the Thas and escape, which leads us to the second story. Uruk has a need to go out and relive an ancient battle, and he drags Yonin/Tolar with him. They seem to go back in time, but I could never be sure. Apparently, the last time Uruk fought this battle, called the Lost Battle, he rushed in and was captured by the plantlike appendages of the Thas. This time they wait, and the magical fog dissipates enough for them to enter the lands to fight. They win, and chase the evil Targi, and slay him, too. It didn’t seem like a difficult battle to win, with the Gray ones on their side for part of it, and Targi didn’t seem that powerful.

In the third story, we follow Crytha at around the same time. We see her uncertainty about her magic, wanting to learn more, but unable to express her desires, and nobody who knows magic comes forward to teach her. So she opens her mind, and is snared almost immediately. She’s first taken by the Thas, and we get a little more information about what happened down in the tunnels. It seems that a sorceress of the Shadow, Laidan, found her untrained mind and snared it, turning her into a puppet of sorts. It’s unclear what Laidan wants, except to resurrect Targi from his death aeons ago. She has his skull, and the second time she takes Crytha, while Yonin is out fighting Targi, the two women seem to go back in time as well. Laidan has also captured Tsali, and will use him as a blood sacrifice to bring the Shadow into this world. Why she wants this is never expressed.

Fortunately, Crytha can commune with animals, and she tries the same with the big fat spiders that live in this place, which disrupt the spell. It’s unclear if Laidan was able to summon her shadow into this world, and was hiding from it, or if she was just scared of that possibility. Regardless, she disappears for long enough that Crytha and Tsali can escape, Gray Ones on their tail. Crytha communes with an Old One, whom she might have served in another life, and gains the power to create a sword out of nothing with her inner magic. When Laidan comes after them, she kills the sorceress with the Shadow sword.

The book is called Trey of Swords, which I assume means three swords. Yonin has the Ice Sword, Crytha creates the Shadow Sword, and I assume the third sword must be Uruk’s axe, as I don’t see any other sword around.

There was enough to keep me interested, but in the end, the story, such as it was, was forgettable. I’m not a fan of people being put under a gaes, or spell that turns them into puppets. Free will is so much more interesting. I also didn’t like the fact that Yonin and Crytha, as well as Laidan, had no motivation for what they did. I assume Laidan wanted to change history and bring Targi back as a warlord, as evil always does. Other than that, I have no idea what form the struggle between Light and Dark takes in this world.

Looking up the series, I see that this is just a small segment of Andre Norton’s Witchworld. I’ve heard good things about the series, but this is not a great introduction. The writing was strange, with many fragmented sentences, and my copy had so many spelling and punctuation mistakes that it was very distracting. I bought the books as a trilogy, and hope that the next book is better.


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