Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Riddlemaster of Hed cover

The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976)
Book 1 of the Riddle-Master trilogy

1978 Del Rey fantasy paperback
222 pages + 6 page glossary
cover art by Darrell Sweet

1999 Omnibus trade paperback
Riddle-Master The Complete Trilogy
cover art by Kinuko Y. Craft
571 pages + 6 page glossary

Riddle Master complete trilogy

From the back cover of the paperback:
       Three stars of destiny
       Long ago, the wizards had vanished from the world, and all knowledge was left hidden in riddles. Morgon, prince of the simple farmers of Hed, proved himself a master of such riddles when he staked his life to win a crown from the dead Lord of Aum.
       But now ancient, evil forces were threatening him. Shape changers began replacing friends until no man could be trusted. So Morgon was forced to flee hostile kingdoms, seeking the High One who ruled from mysterious Erlenstar Mountain.
       Beside him went Deth, the High One's Harper. Ahead lay strange encounters and terrifying adventures. And with him always was the greatest of unsolved riddles -- the nature of the three stars on his forehead that seemed to drive him toward his ultimate destiny.

From the back cover of the trade paperback omnibus:
       In a land where wizards have long since vanished, Morgon, Prince of Hed, is confronted with a challenge much different from that faced by Hed's land bound rulers before him. Although he wants only to rule and work the land of his birth, Morgon must search out a very different destiny -- given to him by the stars imprinted on his forehead since he was born. He must wander strange, foreign lands full of untamed magic in the form of riddling wraiths, mysterious harpists, a lost crown, a magical sword, and an all knowing High One who rules over all. But in his quest for a new life for himself and his people, he must face great dangers -- not only to himself, but to his promised bride, his land, and his very way of life...

Read for group discussion on April 24, 2002

Heir of Sea and Fire

Heir of Sea and Fire (1977)
Book 2 of the Riddle-Master Trilogy
1978 Del Rey paperback - 213 pages
cover art by Darrell Sweet

Harpist in the Wind (1979)
Book 3 of the Riddle-Master Trilogy

1980 Hugo award nominee
1980 Del Rey paperback - 261 pages
cover art by Darrell K. Sweet

Harpist in the Wind

Our book group has also read the following books by Patricia A. McKillip
-- The Book of Atrix Wolfe  in October 1996

How we each rated this book

Dan 5 Amy 6 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb -
Aaron 5 Cynthia 4
Jackie 7 Ron -

Aaron's Commentary Patricia A. McKillip – The Riddle-Master of Hed

       McKillip’s prose is competent enough, and there is some rather nice imagery in this book, even if it often feels overwritten. Yet I had a terrible time trying to get involved in the story. I’m not certain why, but I have a couple theories.
       First, for a quest story to succeed, the quest must have some object that is terribly important. Here, it’s not clear why it’s important for Morgon to go wherever it is he’s going. It’s certainly not clear to Morgon, since he repeatedly changes his mind about his destination. First he’s going to meet his potential bride, then he’s going to confront the High One, then he decides just to go home, then he suddenly reverses course and heads north, where he’s content to run around with giant deer for several weeks, before finally heading off again to meet the High One.
       Second, Morgon does not live up to his billing as a “riddle-master.” Early in the book we are told that he progressed through his studies of riddles faster than any other student ever, and that he went on to defeat a ghost in a riddle challenge that no one else had completed in centuries of trying. Apparently the guy is a super-genius, but one would never know it from any of his actions in this novel. He is rarely called on to do anything clever. If anything, he comes across as a bit dim-witted.  Indeed, the most likable thing about him is that he’s an unambitious, simple-minded farmer who wishes the powerful forces around him would leave him alone.
       Having built up her protagonist as a brilliant “riddle-master,” McKillip needs to let us see him in action. This novel is halfway through before Morgon is ever asked to answer a riddle. The riddles are never an important part of the plot. And when we finally hear some, we find out that these “riddles” are actually just rather dull summaries of things that happened to figures from the past. Morgon’s no riddle-master; he’s more like the master-historian of Hed.
       Even though I liked the surprise at the end of this book, McKillip never captured my interest enough to make me want to read the rest of the trilogy.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Patricia A. McKillip (1948-   ) is a US writer of primarily fantasy, but she has written some science fiction.

1975 World Fantasy Award for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

McKillip's first books were for children. The House on Parchment Street is a ghost story set in England. The Throme of the Erril of Sherril (1973) is a novella first published standalone, then reissued in 1984 along with the novelette "The Harrowing of the Dragon of Hoarsbreath".

The award winning The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974), about a young enchantress who befriends beasts, and the cost of revenge, was originally marketed as a juvenile.

The Riddle-Master trilogy is heroic fantasy: The Riddle-Master of Hed (1976), The Heir of Sea and Fire (1977), and Harpist in the Wind (1979). Omnibus editions are Riddle of Stars (1979), The Chronicles of Morgon, Prince of Hed (UK 1981), and Riddle-Master: the Complete Trilogy (1999).

Moon-Flash (1984) and The Moon and the Face (1985) are the young adult Kyreol science fiction novels.

Fools Run (1987) is a science fiction novel featuring futuristic musicians.

The Changling Sea (1988) is a young adult fantasy.

The Sorceress and the Cygnet (1991) is a quest fantasy. Its sequel is The Cygnet and the Firebird (1993).

Brian Froud's Faerielands: Something Rich and Strange (1994) is a fantasy novella about beings from the sea. It's part of a series based on and illustrated with Froud's art.

In McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe (1995) a mage hiding among the wolves is asked to find the daughter of the Queen of the Wood.

Winter Rose
(1996), a fantasy set in Victorian England and Fairyland, was a 1996 Nebula Award nominee.

Song for the Basilisk (1998) is about a young man who survived his family's destruction, who became a bard, confronting his past.

The Tower at Stony Wood (2000), a 2001 Nebula Award nominee, features an imposter Queen and a quest to free the real queen from an enchanted tower.

Ombria in Shadow (2002) features a dying city, a young heir, and his ruthless sorceress great aunt who is regent.

The Night Gift (1976) is a novel with a minor fantasy elements. Stepping from the Shadows (1982) is semi-autobiographical novel about growing up.

More recent books by Patricia McKillip are:  In the Forest of Serre (2003), Alphabet of Thorn (2004), Od Magic (2005), Harrowing the Dragon (2005,  short stories), Solstice Wood (2006), and The Bell at Sealey Head (2008).

Patricia McKillip - Wikipedia
The SF Site Featured Review Riddle-Master The Complete Trilogy
rambles review: Patricia McKillip, The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy
Patricia McKillip - a fan page

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