Stephen Donaldson
The Mirror of Her Dreams
Fontana 1986

Stephen Donaldson
A Man Rides Through
Fontana 1987

Terisa lives an empty life, working at a mission for the poor and homeless, supported by her rich but unloving father, without any friends. Sometimes she find it hard to believe that she even exists. That's why she has filled her luxurious apartment with mirrors - to prove to herself that she really is. Through one of those mirrors, a young man suddenly appears in her apartment: Geraden. Coming from Mordant, in a world where mirrors are magic, he is an apprentice Imager, though not a very good one. Mishap seems to be his destiny - like finding Terisa instead of the champion Mordant is in desperate need of.

Mordant is a country traditionally divided into several Cares, dominated by one or the other of the country's mighty enemies, Cadwal and Alend or occasionally independent. King Joyse, supported by Adept Havelock, a mighty Imager, liberated the country through monopolizing Imagery: kidnapping enemy Imagers, forcing them to join the Congery, an academy of Imagers striving towards peaceful uses for the magical ability, until then primarily used for military aims. Since then, King Joyse's reign has been peaceful, but now the country is once again threatened by its neighbours. And now the Congery is divided and useless, a forum for petty conflicts, and King Joyse himself seems quite uninterested in ruling his country, spending most of his time playing checkers with his mad counsellor Havelock.

When Terisa arrives to Mordant, she is thrown into a complicated game where noone knows who is friend or foe, and where she herself is considered an unknown but probably very important factor. There are the leading names of the Congery, like Master Barsonage and Master Eremis, nobles like the Tor, the Fayle and the Domne, Geraden's father. There are the king's family, his daughters Elena and Myste, as well as the Alend ambassador Prince Kragen and several other important characters, all helping to make it a wonderful mess. I think the palace intrigues of "The Mirror of Her Dreams" are some of the most complicated I've encountered in fantasy novels, and also the main reason to like this series.

In "A Man Rides Through" the story leaves the castle of Orison. Instead we follow our heroes travelling in the countryside and fighting on a military campaign. In my opinion, the story loses some of its edge, its uniqueness when it leaves the castle. It becomes more like most other fantasy novels these days. And the lack of maps become most annoying. It's quite hard to understand the strategical problems of a military campaign without a map. Is there anyone out there who has got a map of Mordant?

Still, it's a great series - because of the palace intrigues, but also because of the unique mirror magic Donaldson has created and which is quite different from most magic you meet in fantasy novels, and because of the hilarious collection of characters, with more than a slight resemblance of another fantasy series about castle dwellers, Mervyn Peake's classical Gormenghast-trilogy. Meeting Geraden's family is like being moved to a light fantasy world, and it is always a pleasure to meet the mad Imager Havelock. But the humour never becomes forced, as it always is just a bonus to the quite serious story.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1997.