Book Review: Magic in Ithkar

First of all, aren’t those just beautiful covers? Lovely artwork.

The Magic in Ithkar books hit a certain sort of sweet spot for me. The setting pulls off something you rarely see anymore: coexistence of magic and technology. Well, really the muddling of the two, as the old saw of “any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic” seems to be heavily in play.

These books were first published in the 1980s. I received the Magic in Ithkar books in hard copy from my aunt. Some quick research shows that you cannot find these books as digital copies, so if you find yourself interested in them after this review, you’ll have to toss a few bucks to some used book sellers.

All four books consist of a series of short stories of varying lengths and styles, set in the same world which has its rules described in the prologue shared by all the books. Some are fairly long, others are only a few pages. The series kicks off with an Aesopian tale about vanity. There are usually morals to the stories, which seems to be a staple of the short fiction medium no matter when they were written. Granted, some of the stories are bizarre enough the life lesson is lost, but there seems to be one.

Beyond Aesopian tales and those very trippy stories, you get a lot of character-driven pieces. Some are fun, some are humorous, some are tragic, and some are cheerful. Justice is usually served. Endings are occasionally ambiguous or disturbing.  Sometimes they connect with other stories, even featuring characters you’ve see in other tales. These are really good books for waiting, as you can get through an entire short story before your name gets called or your flight leaves or your meeting starts and feel very satisfied.

One reason for this is that the world of the Ithkar Fair, the common element of all these short stories, is a fascinating and wondrous place to visit. It’s like San Diego Comic Con went to one of the more elaborate Renaissance Faires and all of it is real. I really like the addition of the evil god Thotharn to the setting, as it gives us an opportunity to have some real stakes besides slice-of-life stories and keeps it from getting monotonous.

Anyone who has been reading science fiction and fantasy will recognize a lot of these authors. The whole anthology was edited in part by Andre (Alice Mary) Norton, the Grande Dame of Science Fiction. Authors such as Timothy Zahn, C.J. Cherryh, and Mercedes Lackey are all found in these anthologies, among many others.

I would love it if this world could be revived. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderon’s work quite a bit, though I think modern sci-fi/fantasy writing culture might well turn this wondrous world into something small and ugly. There’s such a cheerful, classical feel to these stories.

It’s hard to pick out interesting or telling quotes from an anthology, as these short stories are all very different, despite their unified setting.

He should have realized that anyone with an apostrophe in his name had to be important.

Jad held tightly onto the scroll, as if to a lifeline. The exchange of it for this golden lifeline must never be. He understood now that the art he himself sought was not a means to an end, as had always thought; it was the end. For the true, magician signs of worldly wealth were transitory, bait to catch the human fly.

The blade was swallowed like the swamp-taken city of Eld, and Roswitha and the heroic Alyson were enclosed in a breastwork of azurine light—the hue S’a-Muse eyes.

As always, Amazon is a good place to pick up these novels. Looks like there are a number of cover variations.  I really recommend them, especially if you are stuck waiting for something on a frequent basis.

Published by kathrynzurmehly

I am, among many other things, an Army vet and a freelance writer.

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