Phyllis Eisenstein – In The Red Lord’s Reach

In The Red Lord’s Reach (1989) by Phyllis Eisenstein is a less typical work of fantasy although it treads familiar paths. It is her second novel about the minstrel Alaric. The protagonist is a bit of an outcast and wanders the world, supported by an unusual magical ability. He is molded in the typical fashion of a minstrel. He is no fighter and somewhat of a pretty boy who seems to prefer the easy life.

Eisenstein quickly overturns the setup. Events unfold quickly in a tragic nature and the main protagonist is in reality more lost as he has less to choose than he desires. On one side the main character, from which eyes the reader only sees the story, is fragile and there is a certain amount of connection. Eisenstein portrays him very well and he is quite different from the common fare of fantasy characters. On the other side he can sometimes be frustrating as he chooses too often the weaker choice as his character is not that strong of heart. This is made even stronger as he is set along side characters that are strong and have a decisive mind.

The setup of the story is episodic of nature. Each chapter has a miniature plot of its own as if it is almost a string of connected short stories. This not always the case, but it could have been so. For a relatively short novel much happens, especially compared to todays heavy tomes. As this novel was published in 1989 it of course is from the period before fantasy became more mainstream and popular for a greater market. This different flow is rather refreshing and reminded me of the older works of fantasy from the sixties and seventies.

The plot, thanks to the episodic nature, allows the reader little time to predict the course of events. Looking back some things were to be predicted. One early on learns the characters of the main protagonist and he will make the choices one expects. Some just happen in a different way and at a different time. It is the way that Eisenstein has structured the novel that you don’t really spend time on deliberating about that. She keeps a steady pace and doesn’t waste any words. After each chapter, or episode, the reader is more thinking about what has happened than what will happen next. That is a particular quality and difference.

In The Red Lord’s Reach is not a great novel that will leave a big impact. Nevertheless it is a small gem, being quite different than the usual fare with many small things that will make an impression. I of course already knew this as I had read the first novel, Born In Exile, already, although this has been many years before. It was however sufficient in leaving its mark that when I happened to notice this novel in an online bookstore that I wanted to read more.


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