Judith Tarr – The Hall Of The Mountain King

While many fantasy novels share their origin with the legends and fairy tales of old, few share a story and setup that is reminiscent of those legends and fairy tales. Judith Tarr chooses this more classic style for the first novel in the Avaryan Rising series, The Hall Of The Mountain King (1986), as her main protagonist is a half-god arrives to claim his heritage in a land he knows little about.

At first sight the story follows familiar tropes: a thwarted stepmother, the supplanted halfbrother and the new prince showing off his right to the throne. It is not all that simple. Tarr places an unwilling comrade at the main protagonist’s side who despite his dislike and loyalty to the halfbrother holds his duty higher. The halfbrother, while strong and honorable on the outside, is weak on the inside. The story however is not what it seems. It has a character-driven plot although it follows traditional patterns. There are subtleties and details that show that there is much more going on than the story.

Character-driven as the story is, Tarr has plenty of opportunity to delve into the characters and develop them. The novels is not that long but she keeps the progress of the plot fast so that each sequence is provided with plenty of opportunity to explore the characters. From the initial onset to the last pages Tarr grabs the reader’s attention and does not let go until the end. No words are wasted and the only complaint could be that the story isn’t longer, that the plot could be a bit more extensive so we could enjoy the characters more.

Making the story longer or the plot more extended would not have fit this fantasy story that is told like a legend. Like the legends of yore, she follows the traditional patterns and makes sure the reader will have a similar experience. The major difference is the great depth of this character-driven story. The traditional pattern is also the main weakness of the story. It does not provide anything new and much is rather predictable. The reading experience is what makes this novel more than worthwhile. It is actually quite nice to read something traditional that is done so well. Most similar contemporary ones would have made it too simplistic or childish. This is also an adult read, showing how much can be made of something traditional without stepping beyond its boundaries. Recommended.

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