Friday, October 23, 2009

Black Trillium - Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton

Kim picked this first edition hardcover up at a book fair in Amsterdam a while ago. It was nearly in pristine condition. She hasn't read it yet I think, but since I have been ill for most of the week (if this is the Mexican flu I recommend you try not to contract it) and my own to read pile is not as large as it used to be I thought I have a go at it. At first glance it looks like an interesting project. Three leading female authors of speculative fiction writing a book together. I don't know how well it sold but after having read it, I don't think the result is a resounding success. It still spawned a total of four sequels written by each of the authors individually. I understand there are some continuity issues between those books making the whole series a strange one indeed.

Black Trillium is the story of the Kingdom of Ruwenda, a place surrounded by vast marshlands and bogs and closed off from neighbouring states by a mountain range. Ruwenda is a human kingdom but a lot of the inhabitants of the marshlands are not. Different tribes of the Folk or Oddlins, as humans refer to them, live more or less peacefully together. All under the watchful and benevolent protection of the White Lady, a sorceress of great power. The Oddlings are the source of some much coveted merchandise and all of this trade goes through Ruwenda (and adds to the royal treasury). Something not all neighbours seem to think fair.

Driven by the dark magician Orogastus, the newly crowned king Voltrik of Labornok decides to cut out the middle man and conquer Ruwenda. The White Lady's power is waning and the power hungry Orogastus has his own reasons for joining this invasion. Soon the Kingdom falls and all seems to be going Orogastus' way. The White Lady has one more trick up her sleeve though. The three daughters of king Krain of Ruwenda escape when Voltrik's forces take the capital. According to prophecy, they will bring great change to the kingdom. Set on their path by the White Lady ad quest to fulfil their destiny now begins for the bookish Haramis, the hot-headed Kadiya and the shy Anigel.

For most of the book the chapters alternate between the three princesses, with each of the authors writing one storyline. Haramis is the creation of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kadiay was written by Andre Norton and Aringel is Julian May's part in the story. The style of the writing is very much the same, the editor took great care to make sure the writing of each of the three matches. The prose itself is rather flowery. Probably not everybody's cup of tea, but once you get into it Black Trillium is a pretty fast read. The world building, at least for the nation of Ruwenda is also quite elaborate. It mentions a great many details on life in the marshlands and number of very different types of Oddlings and their cultures. The setting in particular was one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

The story itself is rather disappointing. We see the story for a large part through the eyes of the three princesses who's actions are almost entirely decided by others. There is very little initiative in these girls. The prophecy and guidance by the White Lady lays out their map to their destiny almost from start to finish, turning it into a rather standard D&D plot. Fetch the talisman, rally your supporters, defeat the evil wizard, live happily ever after. And yes, there is a handsome prince to be married too. It's not only a standard and horribly predictable plot, we go though it three times in the course of this one novel. Given the fact that this was written by three established authors, who at that point had more than a few critically acclaimed novels under their belt, it is really beyond comprehension that they were willing to have their name attached to it.

The idea behind this novel may have been interesting and the world the authors use as a setting is certainly unusual but that is not enough from saving this book from being a disaster. If you are attracted to it because the book has three female protagonists (rare these days, even rarer in 1990 when the book was first published) or because of the names of the authors, think again. The good thing about buying second hand books is that you can afford to take chances. I never seriously considered putting it down as the story progressed at a fair pace and the book certainly isn't a punishment to read, but when you get right down to it the plot itself is just substandard. I really can't recommend this book to anyone.

Book Details
Title: Black Trillium
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 410
Year: 1990
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0-385-26185-3
First published: 1990


  1. This book is still on my TBR pile... somehow bad reviews make me curious to see if I would feel the same way about a book. I must admit, I'm happy I've got a very cheap second hand version as well (hurray for English charity shops!), in case we share the same opinion.

  2. I've heard from a number of people that they really enjoyed reading it in the early ninties so maybe it just didn't age well? Let me know what you think if you do decide to read it.