Elizabeth A. Lynn
Completed 1/14/2023, Reviewed 1/14/2023
This is the first book of a series called “The Chronicles of Tornor”. I read the third book several years ago and really liked it. The Northern Girl had excellent world building and characterization, particularly for the third book in a trilogy. However, the books are somewhat standalone, taking place in the same universe. “Watchtower” was not as enjoyable as the other book. I found the prose to be quite dense and erratic: sometimes long, confusing sentences, other times too short and choppy. I never quite cared for the main characters. Still, this book and author are considered big names in feminist and LGBTQ+ fantasy literature. It also won the 1980 World Fantasy Award.
This book was published in 1979, so the plot over forty years later feels rather tired. When the northern hold of Tornor is conquered by a southern invading army, the former prince Errel and his trusted man Ryke escape, making their way to a secret southern valley. There they experience a new way of dealing with life and conflict. After a short time, Van, the leader of the Valley assembles a small group of his people to join Errel and Ryle to return to Tornor to overthrow the usurper.
The overthrowing of the usurper is such a common trope that I had lots of trouble getting into the book. It begins at the end of the war. Prince Errel is made a jester and Ryke is sworn to defend the usurper Col under pain of Errel’s death. I found this beginning incredibly tedious. It unfortunately set the tone for the whole book. I didn’t begin to get interested in it or the characters until they found the secret valley and meet Van and his people. There, at least, valley’s inhabitants were more colorful and their actions more interesting.
The narration is from Ryke’s point of view. It was an interesting choice because he never finds peace in the hidden valley the way Errel does. Ryke’s mind is solely on revenge on Col the usurper for killing the lord of Tornor and abusing Errel. This too was tedious. I never found myself liking Ryke. I was much more interested in Errel who seemed to have more diverse emotions and was certainly more open to new experiences and ideas. There’s a sense of an unspoken homoerotic tension between Ryke and Errel that I felt and was glad to see others felt once I read some reviews. A lesbian relationship is later revealed as well. And for 1979, this book good, strong female characters.
I read this book in ebook format, borrowed from the library. The page count was 113. What I didn’t realize was that in hard copy form, the book is about 250 pages long. So as I read, particularly in the first third of the book, every page was two to three swipes. I would read for an hour and only get through about eight to ten pages. It added to the tedium of that first part, feeling like a page took forever to get through, achieving no progress.
I give this book three stars out of five. I was thinking of giving it two stars, but it does have some neat moments, like the time spent in Van’s valley. And I have to say, despite not liking Ryke, I did become invested in his revenge. I don’t know how the second book is, and I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading it, but the third book was quite good. I’m also interested in another book by the author, “A Different Light”, considered a classic in LGBTQ+ genre literature, so much so that a now famous bookstore in San Francisco was named after it.