Companions On The Road by Tanith Lee (book review)

December 4, 2020 | By | Reply More

With so many fantasy novels and stories around, it is difficult to pick out the best. When the themes of them are so often similar it is as well to remember that someone had that idea first. There is totally new fantasy where the imagination conjures situations and scenarios that seem totally original. Some early fantasy, such as Robert E Howard, is pure escapism and now regarded as pulp fiction. Once it was fresh and in popular demand. Modern readers want good writing and characterisation as well as adventure. It is always worth looking at the works of Tanith Lee (1947-2015), a multi-award winning author.

Companions On The Road’ is a masterwork that aspiring fantasy writers should read to find out how to create interesting scenarios, believable characters and a rounded story with a plot and a denouement. The volume is actually an omnibus of two novellas ‘Companions On The Road’ was originally published as a chapbook in 1975 from Macmillan, while ‘The Winter Players’ similarly appeared in 1976, the two being put together as an omnibus in 1977. This is a reprint of the latter volume.

‘Companions Of The Road’ begins on the night the siege of Avillis is lifted. The gates are opened and the army, of which Havor is a part, rides in. Amid the killing and looting, Havor and his second, the arrogant upstart Feluce, find themselves victims of a cutpurse. Pursuing and cornering the villain, Kachil, bargains for his life by saying he can lead them to a real treasure. This is a gold and gemmed chalice once belonging to the sorcerous king of Avillis. They decide to desert the army and take it to Venca, sell it and split the profits. When Kachil and Feluce both die on the road, Havor has to find a way of reaching Venca, now several days away, without sleeping and find a way to lift the curse.

The second story, ‘The Winter Players’, is very different. Oaive is priestess of a coastal shrine. Hidden within the shrine are three relics: a ring, a jewel and a bone. The routine of her day is unchanging until a stranger arrives and steals the bone. Oaive follows him to retrieve it, knowing that she will not be able to take it by force. This is another story where the main character has to solve a problem in order to find a suitable resolution.

Both these novellas are delightful to read and even after more than forty years, they still resonate and have the originality that so much generic fantasy does not.

Pauline Morgan

December 2020

(pub: DAW, 2018. 202 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 10.99 (CAN), £ 6.00 (UK), ISBN: 978-0-7564-1110-7)

check out website: www.dawbooks.com

Category: Books, Fantasy

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