Striderweb Reviews: MORDANT'S NEED
by Stephen R. Donaldson

Comprising: The Mirror of Her Dreams and
A Man Rides Through

Reviewed July 22, 2000


The two-volume Mordant's Need is a masterwork of high fantasy and political intrigue. Beginning with the deliberately simplistic language of a fairy tale, Donaldson quickly sheds all pretense of simplicity and envelops the reader in a wonderfully[mirrorofherdreams.gif] complex world of treachery and manipulation, garnished with a brilliantly inventive brand of magic known as imagery, wherein real magic is literally done "with mirrors".

He takes his time with the story, drawing out the events and characters with a practiced eye for detail, and the result is nearly perfect. The story, though strongly plot driven, simply would not work without the complex and thorough characterizations he gives the reader. Oftentimes when reading a book that throws so many diverse characters into the mix, I find myself losing track of who is who, and what name fits which figure, which rarely fails to seriously detract from a novel. Here, however, the author gives the reader time to get to know each character as he is introduced, resulting in a tight read despite the story's rambling length. The only place in which this backfires on him is when it once or twice seems to take the characters an inordinantly long time to figure things out that the reader sees almost immediately. This is not as bad as it might be, however, because the writing style and plotting are able to generate enough interest to carry through these weak points.

In scope the story rivals such works as Tolkein's infamous Lord of the Rings, but without the pretensions that have sadly become common in works of high fantasy. Even as he incorporates the impossible through means of the mirrors, his characters are firmly grounded in realism, and seem as though they might have been plucked from the real world -- a sense that he reinforces with the fact that Teresa, the main character, is in fact plucked from the real world at the beginning of the book.

The political intrigue throughout the story is built on a foundation of a convincing backstory for the kingdom and its inhabitants. The history of Mordant is strongly influenced by Arthurian legend, with a powerful king who single-handedly united various warring dukedoms and brought peace to the land, winning the fierce[manridesthrough.gif] loyalty of his subjects and building the castle of Orison as a shining testament of his success. Only in Mordant, the king was never betrayed, and did not subsequently die in battle; instead he lives long enough to go senile and thus make his achievements vulnerable to old rivals, while his subjects are torn between their loyalty to the king they love and the defense of the realm.

The story is not so simple, though. On a regular basis, Donaldson reveals that all is not as it seems, and just as we become accustomed to the new order of things, he throws another wrench into the works.

There are a few points where the author slips, and allows, albeit briefly, his editorial seams to show. Most prominent of these is when Teresa, seemingly at random, returns to her own world, and by enormous coincidence is allowed to immediately tie off all those unresolved loose ends she left dangling when she disappeared, and then through plot convenience is able to easily return to the thick of the action in Mordant. For a matter of a few short pages, Donaldson loses the story's realism, because he allows himself to take a cheap shortcut rather than finding a better way to accomplish the same end. This is the weakest part of the book, but as stated it lasts only a few pages (out of roughly 1300 pages of overall story), and is easily forgiven in light of the events following.

Mordant's Need is an impressive feat of storytelling. The story is massive but tightly focused, the characters diverse yet individually memorable, and the setting complex while cohesive. The result is engaging and persistently entertaining.

4 StarsRECOMMENDED

Click an ISBN
to buy this book at
Amazon.com
The Mirror of Her Dreams:
ISBN# 0-345-34697-1 Ballantine Books mass market paperback
A Man Rides Through:
ISBN# 0-345-35657-8 Ballantine Books mass market paperback

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