My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've been dragging this around since I bought it back in high school when I was reading everything by Andre Norton. Thirty years later I finally read it to a) get it off my shelf and do what a book is meant to do and b) I needed something for my 'something on the TBR pile forever' challenge. Thirty years qualifies...only now I'm disappointed I've been carrying this around so long. It is definitely one of Ms. Norton's minor works. It took me weeks of setting it aside then bulling through it to make it to the end. It's dull and confusing and really not that interesting.
To be fair the opening and the closing were interesting but even they have problems. Gwennan Daggert, librarian in a small library in New England, has an interest in the standing stones (yes, there are some up there that resemble those in the UK). She gets the interest of Tor Lyle, an arrogant man and his elderly relative, Saris who owns the large house where the stones are. Saris invites Gwennan to dinner much to Tor's dismay. They appear to be into some mystical things but really, Gwennan's not that interested in that. However, a sense of dread falls over her when she's out at night looking at the stones. Soon a stinky creature with red eyes begins to stalk her at her remote house that used to be her aunt's.
So it had the makings of a decent urban fantasy or horror but then it completely derails and wallows around almost all the way to the end. Saris disappears. Gwennan spends far too much time whining and worrying about the fact that Saris seems to have given her a magical amulet and a duty to protect the stones and how weak and untrained she is. How could she ever do this? Tor, who seems to be her enemy, is so much better trained and stronger and how oh how could she stand against him?
Part of this really has to be Norton's age. She was writing for what, nearly 50 years by the time she wrote this. She was born in the nineteen teens and I get that back in those days women weren't that independent but I know she wrote more independent women than Gwennan. I really just wanted to slap this woman and have her get on with it.
But the other part of the derailing was the sudden intrusion of another reality when Gwennan becomes (or was in another life or I'm not even sure what the heck happened to be honest) another woman for a brief period. This is where the story really goes off the tracks. The idea that she is somehow part of this rebirth and protection family is central but the idea never gels. Who were these people? What is their power? Why does Tor covet it so? It just never comes together.
The ending makes an attempt but it feels rushed and half done and nothing much gets answered. I guess what I'm saying is go find something else of Andre Norton's to read. The Witch World Series, The Forerunner, something anything but this. She was the only woman named Grand Master by the SF writers of America (and may still be the only one. I'm not sure on that account). There are better stories than this one. This can now leave my shelf after thirty years. I wont' be rereading it.
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