101. The Mirror of Her Dreams, Stephen R. Donaldson and
102. A Man Rides Through, Stephen R. Donaldson
I’m a bit of a sucker for fantasy, but I’ve such an addictive personality (entire Gilmore’s in less than 2 weeks, what?) that I try to avoid enormously long series. I’m kind of afraid I’ll fall down a rabbit hole and never make it back to reality. So Stephen Donaldson’s Mordant’s Need series is absolutely perfect for me. It’s only two (ok, rather long) books, and c’mon. You totally have time for that. Even I have time for that. And they are so freaking good. They totally should have been made into a movie by whoever did The Princess Bride. Oh well…. (Also, I’m apparently talking like a 15 year old valley girl this morning [totally, like, freaking good!] [what is the more up-to-date term for a valley girl? I’m feeling a bit of a fossil], but it’s 5 am, I can’t sleep because of this freaking [yes, freaking] cold, and it seems this is how I communicate when I’m not editing. And now ya know.) (Also, my boyfriend, a/k/a Mr. Wonderful, just made me a cup of hot tea and brought me some medicine. And I totally don’t deserve niceness since I’ve woken him up like twelve times, banging around the apartment like a toddler with a toothache because I don’t feel good. I’m very spoiled and now feeling all warm and fuzzy despite the brass band playing in my head.) (Aww.)
And back to the books: The first time I read these books I was in Bible college, taking a children’s literature class. Although for most classes we confined ourselves to the campus library (heavy on John R. Rice and Charles Spurgeon, praisejesus), for this class we needed some slightly more, um, popularly acclaimed texts. We were to read 100 Caldecott or Newbery winners and write a short summary of each, including themes, major characters and plot points. The idea was that once we were educators, we’d have a personal anthology of reading material to suggest for students. You know, stuff like “read Johnny Tremain when your hand is melted together in a freak bullet-making accident.” Definitely not a terrible idea—if I planned to teach in junior high or high school, (and if I didn’t already have five zillion book suggestions at my [thankfully not melted together] fingertips) it would have been very helpful.
Anyway someone had shelved the first book in this series—The Mirror of Her Dreams—in the wrong place at the library. It was in the children’s section (totally not a children’s book, btw. like, totally.) so I picked it up. The cover wasn’t promising. It was terribly 80’s fabulous. But the blurb on the back seemed interesting so I checked it out. (Isn’t that the wonder of the library? You can try out books that may or may not be worth investing in without financial responsibility. Although I love my Kindle, they’ll pry my library card out of my cold, dead hands, sohelpmegod.)
So. A few days later I started flipping through it while drying my hair before class. And then I skipped class. I finished the book (700+ pages) in one major gulp. And as I got closer and closer to the back binding, I kept wondering how in the world Donaldson was going to wrap up the story in the remaining 30, 25, 15 pages… and then, horror of horrors, it was a to be continued….
I snuck out of my dormitory (an escape worthy of Steve McQueen: no off-campus pass, no supervisor, just me and my trusty library card) (and pj pants rolled up under my long denim skirt, if I remember correctly) and returned to the library for the second book. I made it back through enemy lines without detection, wriggling on my stomach through the last several yards of barbed wire. I told my dorm supervisor that I was sick. My roommates worried and brought me food from the cafeteria. And I continued reading through the night under the comforter with a flashlight.
And I read the second book in another gulp. I didn’t leave my dorm room for like 3 days. And while part of that might have been because I was kind of totally miserable where I was (Bible college is definitely not good for the psyche) it was mostly because the series is so good.
So you should read it. Immediately, if not sooner.
Terisa Morgan is the quintessential poor little rich girl. She is neglected by her enormously wealthy father, she’s the completely replaceable assistant to an ineffectual leader of a local charity, she has no personal relationships whatsoever. She feels so invisible that she has decorated her apartment completely in mirrors: she doesn’t doubt her existence when she sees herself. (This isn’t a metaphor–Terisa’s got some rather serious emotional difficulties. This is one of the many reasons I think this series is so good–she’s the princess in the tower, but her problem is internal, not external. She has to [cheesy language ahead] find herself, not be found. Or rescue herself, not be rescued. Good stuff.)
During one particularly troubling night, as she sits in front of the mirror watching her reflection, she sees a man apparently swimming toward her through the mirror. He plunges through the mirror, leaving it in great shards on her carpet, and immediately asks for her help.
Gearden wasn’t trying to find Terisa. The mirror that he came through clearly showed an intergalactic warrior in battle, not a girl locked in a room full of mirrors. But the mirror brought him to Terisa, so he brings Terisa back to the medieval kingdom of Mordant. (And Gearden is one of the most appealing heroes I’ve come across: he’s bumbling and clumsy and noble and honorable, but incredibly sensitive and immature at the beginning. He grows up, (god, does that sound like a death knell) and grows into himself (apparently I can’t help the cheesy language right now. Blame the NyQuil) but still retains much of what made him so perfect at the beginning.)
Mordant is in deep trouble: the Congery of Imagers (a political affiliation of magicians who work with mirrors) is agitating for more power after being severely limited by the noble King Joyse; King Joyse has apparently lost all interest in the kingdom and now spends all of his time playing hopboard (like checkers) with his insane and leering advisor; all of the treaties that were held in place by Joyse’s power are in danger of crumbling as he ignores his responsibilities. In short, it’s just an awful mess.
And Terisa is plopped down in the middle of it, without any idea of what to do or who to trust.