Mordant’s Need: Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, by Stephen R. Donaldson

Please don’t judge Mordant by me, my lady.  The need is real.  And it’s urgent, my lady.  Parts of the realm have already begun to die.  People are dying-people who don’t have anything to do with Imagery or kings and just want to live their lives in peace.  And the threat increases every day.  Alend and Cadwal are never exactly quiet.  Now they’re forming armies.  And King Joyce doesn’t do anything.  The heart has gone out of him.  Wise men smell treachery everywhere.
But the gravest peril doesn’t come from the High King of Cadwal or the Alend Monarch.  It comes from Imagery.
-Apt Geraden of Domne explains Mordant’s Need to Terisa Morgan


This pair of books is probably the oldest batch I’ve reviewed to date.  I can’t recall when Captains Outrageous came out, but these were mid to late ’80s.  I doubt they can be found in the traditional bookstores, although I do believe Amazon at least still carries them.  And I’m certain they can be found in used bookstores.

It’s a safe bet that I wouldn’t be reviewing books written that far back if they weren’t any good.  The fact of the matter is, I thought these books were extremely good.  Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through both contain a great deal of story, but don’t have so many characters that you have to worry about losing track of who’s who.  Longtime readers of Stephen Donaldson will see nothing unusual from the two protagonists.  From the other books I’ve read of his (his Thomas Covenant books and the Gap series), I’ve seen a pattern of heroes who at least start out in a psychologically shaky state.

Here’s the synopsis in a nutshell.  Terisa Morgan is a young woman who works in a mission (in what we laughingly refer to as the real world); she tends to keep to herself and often has bouts of wondering if she even exists.  To that end, she surrounds herself at home with mirrors so that she can reassure herself of that fact.  Things get interesting when a young man named Geraden appears through one of her mirrors, and turns her life upside down.  He brings her to a troubled land called Mordant, ruled by King Joyce, who seems to have lost all interest in retaining the kingdom he had built.  The timing of his disinterest could hardly be worse, as the neighboring nations are looking to take the land for themselves, and there are Imagers-wizards who work magic through mirrors-who are working to destroy Mordant from within.

While Geraden tries to convince Terisa that she’s the champion that will save Mordant, it seems that very few others in Mordant believe it.  Castellan Lebbick is a rather…coarse individual who thinks she’s an enemy of the king.  The master Imagers Gilbur and Eremis have conflicting opinions-one considers her a waste, while the other is attracted to her.  The king’s closest friend, Adept Havelock, is insane.  Terisa spends a fair amount of time in the first quarter of the book trying to figure out what’s going on, when nobody will help her out.

Once she does begin to understand, all hell breaks loose.  I can’t really go any further without spoiling things, but rest assured that every character in the book serves a purpose (well, all the named ones, anyway).  The books take Terisa all over Mordant, and we get a fair amount of insight on how the two neighboring nations view things; it isn’t as black and white as it seems.  The book also has a considerable amount of intrigue behind it.  I think that any book that involves itself with the royalty almost has to involve treachery and intrigue as a requirement!  There’s also a strong undercurrent of romance in these books, which drives some characters to do some pretty dangerous (as in potential lethal) things.

I was also impressed with how Donaldson handled magic.  Mirrors are the big thing in Mordant, because an Imager can translate an image from the mirror into reality.  They can even translate people-although it can only be done safely through a curved glass, because translation through flat glass drives a fellow insane-Havelock is the proof of that.  And worst of all for Terisa, it is said that to observe one’s own reflection in flat glass is to go catatonic, a victim of a translation that goes nowhere.  How she deals with that blow is an important part of her development in Mordant’s Need.

Donaldson put together a good pair of books here.  If you can find them, either in a bookstore or in a library, they’re well worth the time it takes to read them.  They aren’t what you’d call heavy in the action department, but it is plot-heavy and character-heavy, and it’s got a great story with twists and turns.  What more can you ask from a book or two?

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