The Innkeeper’s Song: A vivid, bittersweet dream… but of what?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Peter S Beagle The Innkeeper's SongThe Innkeeper’s Song by Peter S. Beagle

The Innkeeper’s Songis a one-volume fantasy for mature readers that is by turns (or even simultaneously) lyrical and maddening. Lyrical because much of its language is, in contemporary fantasy, on par with only Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay. Maddening because — despite the full-throttle beginning, intricately woven characters and a world made wondrous without a map or long descriptions but simply by names and prosaic brushstrokes — the promise of the beginning and middle absolutely fizzles to a all-but-incomprehensible anti-climax in which none of the characters’ skills, virtues or flaws seem to matter. It’s the equivalent of dreaming oneself into a world of rich and dread beauty, flying over that world so freely as to go beyond dreaming entirely… and then being slapped awake to find oneself flailing at the air and wondering, “What might have been…”

Sigh.

The tale concerns three women who arrive at an inn in the course of their quest to protect their ancient magician-friend from a renegade apprentice so that he might die in peace and not rise as a tormented ghost. The three are a warrior-nun who has escaped her convent; a legendary thief-sailor-swordsman; and a village girl whom the thief raised from a drowning death with the magician’s ring. Added to these memorable figures are the earnest stable-boy; the gruff innkeeper; the nun’s companion (a fox); and the stubborn boy who was betrothed to the village girl and follows her in the hope of reclaiming their lost love.

Each chapter proceeds from the first-person viewpoint of a different character (central or not), which works well overall but sometimes proves tiresome, especially when the author chooses (or is forced to) use a minor character as the “camera” for a particular scene or plot development or when the character’s “voice” is confusing or not quite right. However, the chapters told by the thief are particularly well done; and she emerges as one of the most admirable, engaging characters in contemporary fantasy. (One actually wishes for more tales of Lal, Sailor Lal, Swordcane Lal, Lal-after-dark.)

Recommended as a library loan for dedicated fantasy buffs, fans of Kay or McKillip, or those looking for something completely different.

The Innkeeper’s Song — (1993) Publisher: Set in a shadowy world of magic and mystery, a fantasy novel in which a young man sets off on a wild ride in pursuit of the lover whose death and resurrection he witnessed.

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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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