So I promised a Book Report on Monday and here it is. The Hands of Lyr is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels, and Andre Norton is a phenomenal writer, so there you are. My honest opinion.
What? Wait, you want more detail than that? *Sigh* fine.
So I first read this book, oh, years ago. Before I even moved to California, so you know it’s been a while. Well before ebooks were a thing, back when I thought the idea of me being any sort of writer was a ridiculous pipe dream rightfully and entirely crushed by creative writing classes in college. I didn’t know until very recently (like, maybe a few months ago?) that it’s part of a series called The Five Senses. I haven’t read any of the others (yet!) but if they’re anywhere as good as this one I’m definitely in. Okay. Deep breath, here we go.
I… don’t really understand this cover. It is still 100% better than the paperback I have on my bookshelf though.
The story follows two people, both young and essentially alone in the world, and both with good reason to be both angry at the world in general and distrustful of each other specifically. Alnosha— Nosh to her friends— was being driven to her death for reasons we never learn by faceless soldiers intent on dragging their prisoners through this inexplicable death-march. They are being dragged through the Ryft, a barren, deadly place where even the dust is poisonous, and she is rescued by an old woman. Over the years she learns that she has a gift, given to her by the goddess Lyr, whose valley the Ryft once was. After many years of learning and surviving, she and her friend are driven to flee the Ryft and the old woman takes Nosh straight to the mountains and a band of outlaws.
Amongst these outlaws is a young man named Kryn who was barely grown when he watched his noble father give his whole family and all they owned and controlled to the Temple and the oily, power-hungry High Priest. Kryn escaped the fate of the slave collar by sheer chance, having happened to be touring a holding on the edge of their territory on the day his father made the decision. He steals his family’s heirloom sword back and makes a run for it into the mountains, where he meets and joins the outlaws, a group made up of others like him whose families were led mindlessly to Temple slavery. He distrusts anyone with even a hint of magic since that is how the Temple has been destroying noble families one by one and leading the King into destruction and madness.
See, this cover actually makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and is only related to the book in so far as there are 2 characters on the cover.
Naturally, Kryn is commanded to guard Alnosha on her mission as she journeys through the world to find the ten crystal fingers, restore the hands of the statue of Lyr in the Ryft, and break the grip of the evil wizard behind the High Priest and the blight on Lyr’s valley. Needless to say, they have many adventures, and learn to not only respect each other but become fairly fond of one another. The dangers they face are not constant, nor are they always end-of-the-world stakes. There are magic attacks from far off, bandits attacking a caravan, a scheming merchant bent on ruling a far-off city-state, and a sudden ice storm to be somehow survived as they search for the fingers and learn how to defeat the wizard.
Nosh is a pragmatic, determined young woman who does her best to be polite and respectful but spent much of her life being an honest to god(dess) hermit. Kryn is hostile, but understandably so and does learn that magic is only as evil as the person who wields it. The gradual journey between them from prickly hostility to grudging respect to friendship is so natural and understandable as they alternate rescuing each other that by the time you end the book it feels like such an obvious outcome that anything else seems laughable.
So, I don’t think you’ll be shocked to hear that I rate this book 5 out of 5 rutabagas. I love this book. Norton is a pretty major influence on my imagination and, I hope, my style. I hope I have some small influence on your reading lists, and if I do, I hope you put The Hands of Lyr on your to-read pile.
Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC