Born to Exile (Tales of the Minstrel Alaric #1) – Phyllis Eisenstein

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Summary:

Alaric, a young minstrel with a talent for magic, roamed the lands in search of his fortune. And in Castle Royale, it seemed he’d found both his fortune and his true love, the beautiful Princess Solinde. But could a penniless orphan hope to claim such a royal treasure? And in a land where witches were burned and the court magician looked on Alaric with suspicion, did he dare remain for long?

For Alaric had a magical power which, in the blink of an eye, could transport him any place his mind could recall, a power that revealed itself at the first hint of danger. And for Alaric, Castle Royale held more danger than he could imagine…

Review:

This is kind of an odd duck to review. Written back in 1978, the vast majority of this book barely even feels like fantasy: it feels much like a tale that a minstrel like himself would have told around a fire in whatever part of medieval Europe he happened to be in: a story of a youth of 15 follows his hormones and falls in “love” with the Princess Solinde (a love that, like fair Juliet would have likely all but fizzled if they were to spend true time together), beds her and is forced to flee when caught. From there he wanders, stays at an ill filled with people of bad intentions, wanders and finds the family he never knew he had. At that point the story really does get quite interesting, but sadly, it more or less ends the second that it really begins to feel like a true bit of fantasy in a cliffhanger that one sense will never be resolved.

And why would I say that given that there is in fact a second book?

Because in fact (and something I forgot in the intervening months since I bought this book) this isn’t a duology. Both books are instead collections of short stories. I can’t speak to the second, but if it’s like the first, said short stories were then cobbled together into something resembling a novel. In a way, the books weaknesses begin to make much more sense: the simplistic plot, the episodic nature of the tale and that cliffhanger of an ending that will probably never see resolution. I wish this had been put together more traditionally, because the family that was born into was both creepy and yet an amazing concept that demands to be more richly explored.

All in all, I don’t know that I can recommend it. While an easy read, it’s unquestionably unsatisfying since the short stories were never really fleshed out properly, the way they should have been. Add on top of that that the book is out of print and unavailable digitally – larger libraries may have it in their collection, but these are old enough that it’s no guarantee that smaller systems would – that having to hit up the used book market (or things like Amazon sellers) is a must. While the books are pretty readily available in that space, I honestly don’t know it worth that it’s worth more than $5.

If you’re curious about the author, I’d probably check out the Rogues anthology where she revisits the character. It’s a contemporary piece of fantasy and so much the richer for it. You’ll probably find more enjoyment there than you will here, not to mention all the other fantastic shorts collected within.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: Now

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