Saturday, May 8, 2021

Book Review: Spell of the Witch World

Book Review: 'Spell of the Witch World' by Andre Norton
3 / 5 stars

DAW Books issued two versions of 'Spell of the Witch World', one (No. UQ1001) in April 1972, and the other, No. UY1179, in June of 1976.  Each are 159 pages in length, and the 1972 version has a cover illustration by Jack Gaughan, and the 1976 version, by Michael Whelan.

'Spell' contains the novelette 'Dragon Scale Silver' and the short stories 'Dream Smith' and 'Amber out of Quayth'.

'Witch World', for those unfamiliar with the storyline, is a medieval landscape where the inhabitants eke out their livings amid the ruins of a long-dead civilization. Those few gifted with extrasensory powers can exploit the strange properties still inherent in the ruins, although so doing can earn the mistrust of both villagers and lords.........

In 'Dragon Scale Silver', Elys the heroine undertakes a rescue mission into forbidden territory. A confrontation with an evil sorcerer looms. 

'Dream Smith' centers on a smith whose considerable skill has come about through much misfortune. Shunned by the village, he hopes to find a rapport with an aristocrat's daughter.  

In 'Amber out of Quayth', Ysmay the herbalist is an ambitious, but dowry-less young woman seeking to escape her humdrum life in the hamlet of Uppsdale. Marrying a mysterious lord named Hylle may be the means to accomplish this........but it turns out Hylle may not be what he seems...........

As 'Witch World' entries go, these stories are competent enough, although Norton's dedication to the use of an 'archaic' prose style can sometimes demand patience on the part of the reader. The tales rely on atmosphere and characterization; the protagonists are outcasts in their communities, and can only find their place in the world through investigating the potentially hazardous shrines and artifacts of the since-departed Old Ones.  

'Amber out of Quayth' is darker in tone than the other entries, and could be said to represent an effort by Norton to adopt the tenor of Michael Moorcock's heroic fantasy stories of the late 60s and early 70s. 'Dream Smith' is noteworthy also, for inserting an understated, but effective, note of humanism into its fantasy trappings.

Norton aficionados will of course want to have 'Spell of the Witch World' in their collection. As for others: the stories in this volume represent mainline fantasy fiction as it was in the early 70s, and thus can be said to have the appeal of the genre as it was in simpler, and less complicated, times. 

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