Hello again, and welcome back!
So – what, exactly, do I mean by ‘unknown or underappreciated’?
To put it simply – not everyone is a Kevin J. Anderson or David Weber or Eric Flint or Robert Heinlein. Some authors – I would venture to say, MOST authors – produce perfectly fine books: readable, enjoyable, well-structured, skillfully plotted and with fully-developed characters. And yet, something happens.
They never quite get the recognition they deserve. The book slides into obscurity, and the author – having watched their baby disappear from the public eye – often follows.
Well, no more!
I’ve been reading SF for basically my entire conscious life, and when I like a book, I hold onto it. So, for you lucky, lucky readers, I’m diving back into my stacks to find books which deserve another shot at the sunlight.
Cast your mind back, and look at the books and stories and movies where the hero has been inadvertently sucked into a different world. Doesn’t matter the mechanism, as it will change from story to story and genre to genre. What’s important is that you have a person from OUR world dropped into a new one – the Stranger in a Strange Land.
Now imagine that THIS world is run by magic. How does your hero cope?
That’s the basic premise of Her Majesty’s Wizard, published in 1986. While the theme is neither new nor unique, Christopher Stasheff does manage to breathe life into his version.
Matthew Mantrell is a post-grad student, working on his dissertation when he discovers a rune-covered parchment, runes that make no sense in any known language. Dropping everything, he spends three months trying to translate it, to no avail. After being urged to give it up by his friend Paul, Matthew makes one more attempt, and is pulled from the coffee shop into what seems to be a medieval village.
Naturally, his troubles start there. A modern American in the middle ages? He runs afoul of the locals, inadvertently discovers that he can cast spells, and turns himself into the local constabulary ahead of the rampaging mob.
The world he is thrust into is roughly parallel to our own, with some alterations in history and geography, and Matthew soon finds himself enlisted in the aid of Princess Alisande, rightful ruler of the realm of Merovence.
Adventures ensue, with a cast of characters that includes a dragon, sorcerers, an evil usurper of the throne, the Black Knight – oh, and a lust witch, a priest who is also a werewolf, giants, and other fantastical beasties. Along the way, Matthew learns how to use the magic of the place with some measure of control and, naturally, falls in love with the Princess.
Cliched? Perhaps. At the least, familiar. Yet Stasheff takes this familiar landscape and makes it his own, with wry humour and well-thought-out insights into the nature of good and evil. In addition, he overlays his universe with a distinct, yet not oppressive, Christian feel – wizards draw power from good, sorcerers from evil; sin is punished and virtue rewarded; and other similar themes. Yet he does so without feeling preachy, or overly religious – simply asserting, through his words, that there is good and there is evil and each person must make their own choice.
Her Majesty’s Wizard is the first book in a series, titled A Wizard In Rhyme; I may review others in the series through the year. But this book works well as a standalone; no further reading is required to get a great deal of pleasure from the tome. Though, I suspect, you will want to pick up the second book to find out, as I did, what happens next.
Quick read, well-crafted, with enough Deep Thoughts to occupy you if you so choose; a positive addition to your library.
Moving forward I welcome your comments and suggestions! If there is a book YOU want me to review, drop me a line! You can find me on Facebook (very creatively, Adam Gaffen) or you can send an email to OR you can simply leave a comment here!
Thanks – and I’ll be back soon with another lost treasure!
I still have this book in my well hoarded trove. Sadly I never got around to the other books in the series, though I feel the spark to finish them out. (Adds them to his suffocating reading list.)
Have you read anything by James P. Blaylock? Many awards and nominations.
Still one of my favorites, but I have yet to have a good conversation with anyone that has read his stuff.
Thanks for breaking this one out. This series was an early favorite of mine, very influential Fantasy, when epic fantasy was all that I ever read.
I liked this part:
"Cliched? Perhaps. At the least, familiar. Yet Stasheff takes this familiar landscape and makes it his own, with wry humour and well-thought-out insights into the nature of good and evil. In addition, he overlays his universe with a distinct, yet not oppressive, Christian feel – wizards draw power from good, sorcerers from evil; sin is punished and virtue rewarded; and other similar themes."
That's good writing! I, too, feel that these books are under-appreciated, and rife for resurfacing.
The act of giving exposure to obscure books strikes me as a form of cultural activism, at this point, an antidote to the newer = better model that capitalism is founded upon. If we follow that trend long enough, ONLY modern styles and models will persevere, the music will get progressively LOUDER, struggling to be heard over the pop din of the radio. The movies will be like the new Hobbit film, a new action scene every seven seconds.
They say we have no attention spans, but we remember an obscure fantasy novel from 1986. It's not that we're ADD beyond hope, it's just that there's SO MUCH media out there, that it makes it seem that way. struggling to keep up.
Keep doing what you do! I'll keep reading.
This is great! The review is so good I would like to read the book. I see you like to describe and assess books as well. Satisfying isn't it? I agree – there are so many good, under appreciate books out there. Did you ever read any of the Darkover series?