Black Trillium: Substandard

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton 1. Black TrilliumMarion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton 1. Black TrilliumBlack Trillium by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, Andre Norton

At first glance, Black Trillium looks like an interesting project: three leading female authors of speculative fiction — Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton — writing a book together. After having read it, I don’t think the result is a resounding success. It still spawned a total of four sequels written by each of the authors individually. I understand there are some continuity issues between those books, making the SAGA OF THE TRILLIUM series a strange one indeed.

Black Trillium is the story of the Kingdom of Ruwenda, a place surrounded by vast marshlands and bogs and closed off from neighbouring states by a mountain range. Ruwenda is a human kingdom, but a lot of the inhabitants of the marshlands are not. Different tribes of the Folk or Oddlings, as humans refer to them, live more or less peacefully together under the watchful and benevolent protection of the White Lady, a sorceress of great power. The Oddlings are the source of some much-coveted merchandise and all of this trade goes through Ruwenda (and adds to the royal treasury) — something not all of Ruwenda’s neighbours seem to think fair.

Driven by the dark magician Orogastus, the newly crowned king Voltrik of Labornok decides to cut out the middleman and conquer Ruwenda. The White Lady’s power is waning, and the power-hungry Orogastus has his own reasons for joining this invasion. Soon the Kingdom falls and all seems to be going Orogastus’ way. The White Lady has one more trick up her sleeve, though. The three daughters of King Krain of Ruwenda escape when Voltrik’s forces take the capital. According to prophecy, they will bring great change to the kingdom. Set on their path by the White Lady, the bookish Haramis, the hot-headed Kadiya and the shy Anigel begin a quest to fulfill their destiny.

For most of the book, the chapters alternate between the three princesses, with each of the authors writing one storyline. Haramis is the creation of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kadiay is written by Andre Norton and Aringel is Julian May’s part in the story. The style of the writing is very much the same; the editor took great care to make sure the writing matches. The prose itself is rather flowery. It’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but once you get into it Black Trillium is a pretty fast read. The worldbuilding, at least for the nation of Ruwenda, is also quite elaborate. It mentions a great many details on life in the marshlands and different types of Oddlings and their cultures. The setting is one of the more interesting aspects of Black Trillium.

The plot is rather disappointing. We see the story in large part through the eyes of the three princesses, whose actions are almost entirely decided by others. There is very little initiative in these girls. The White Lady’s prophecy and guidance lay out their map to their destiny almost from start to finish, turning it into a rather standard D&D plot: fetch the talisman, rally your supporters, defeat the evil wizard, live happily ever after. And yes, there is a handsome prince to be married to. It’s not only a standard and horribly predictable plot, we go though it three times in the course of this one novel. Given the fact that Black Trillium was written by three established authors, who at that point had more than a few critically acclaimed novels under their belts, it is really beyond comprehension that they were willing to have their name attached to this.

The idea behind Black Trillium may have been interesting and the world is certainly unusual, but that is not enough to save this book from being a disaster. If you are attracted to it because the book has three female protagonists (rare these days, even rarer in 1990 when the book was first published) or because of the names of the authors, think again. The good thing about buying secondhand books is that you can afford to take chances. I never seriously considered putting it down, as the story progressed at a fair pace and the book certainly isn’t a punishment to read, but when you get right down to it the plot itself is substandard. I really can’t recommend Black Trillium to anyone.

FanLit thanks Rob Weber from Val’s Random Comments for contributing this guest review.


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ROB WEBER, a regular guest at FanLit, developed a fantasy and science fiction addiction as well as a worrying Wheel of Time obsession during his college years. While the Wheel of Time has turned, the reading habit that continues to haunt him long after acquiring his BSc in environmental science. Rob keeps a blog at Val’s Random Comments.

View all posts by Rob Weber (guest)

5 comments

  1. I read it when it first came out and you’ve captured it perfectly. This is another case of “Go find these authors’ original works and read those instead.”

  2. I’m going to have to find myself some Andre Norton for a reading challenge later this year. Any recommendations?

  3. I remember liking the original Witch World series at the time (I was but a child). I’ll have to go rummage through her titles online to find the ones I liked best.

  4. I’ve read three Witch World novels. They’re fun in the way that old SF is fun. I’d recommend those just because they’re her best known books and can be considered classics, I think.

  5. I’ll have a look around for those then. Hope to get around to reading Norton for the Grandmaster reading challenge in April.

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