Black Trillium
Marion Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton

Cover This book was a great disappointment. Given the stature of the 3 authors who wrote this I was expecting something much better. I feel that being written by committee has brought all the worst attributes of the authors to the fore.

The story itself isn't too bad. A fairly standard quest fantasy, but with some interesting settings. The story begins with the invasion of Ruwenda by Labornok. Labornok is aided by the sorcerer Orogastus. The invaders conquer the kingdom and kill the King and Queen, but the princesses escape.

The princesses, Haramis, Kadiya and Anigel, are the principle characters of the story. When they were born they were blessed as the living petals of the black trillium by the Archimage Binah. The black trillium is a mystical three petalled black flower. The had been the protector and guardian of Ruwenda, but her powers are failing and she is dying. Before she dies she sets the 3 princesses on quest to retrieve magic talismans which form the Sceptre of Power when combined. The Sceptre of Power will restore the balance of the world, overthrow the invaders and destroy Orogastus.

I expect you can predict how it will end without any more detail from me.

The book is interesting in it's setting. Ruwenda is basically a big swamp, which is far from standard for this sort of fantasy. The action of the characters reacting to this environment is therefore interesting. They pole small canoes through the mire and besmirch themselves with mud to keep insects at bay.

There are also several races of aborigines, collectively known as Folk, encountered throughout the book. The different races of Folk are different in appearance. The Skritek are very bestial, whilst the Nysomu are very humanoid. And there are about another half dozen races scattered between these two extremes.

The final engaging aspect of the book is a mesterious race known as the Vanished Ones. None actually appear in the book as, as their name implies, they have all vanished, but they have left behind ruins and artefacts. It is these artefacts that enabled Orogastus to overcome Ruwenda. They are the source of his magical power. But it isn't really magic but the technology of the Vanished ones. It never bcomes clear if there is any magic at all or just technology with the appearance of magic. At one point it is stated the magic of the talismans is real while Orogustas' devices aren't, but the talismans were also created by the Vanished Ones. It is a slight inconsistancy that is never really explained.

And this brings me to one of the major disappointments in the book. There seems to be no rules to the magic in this book. The talismans can do absolutely anything, but they only do it when there is no other way to save the princesses. There is no control, limits or consistancy to any of the magic or pseudo-magical science in the book. Any problem encountered by the 3 princesses is going to be solved in a deus ex machina manner which makes it hard to worry about their plight and leaves the book a little flat and tensionless.

The other major problem with the book is the writing. It is severely over-written. Here's an example that tipifies the heavy-handedness of the text.

In it She who ruled Noth, and perhaps elsewhere also, sat, her long-fingered hands smoothing back and forth across her knees the edge of a cloak which was the black of a stormy night, thick in its folds.

pg 202, 1991 Grafton edition

Is it just me or is this sentence excessive?

In some ways this book is worth reading simply to read something so shockingly written. A morbid sense of curiosity, you might say. Because of these two major problems, the greatest being no magical rules, I can't give this book more than two stars, though it does also have some good points. A great dissappointment given the potential at first glance.