My Foundations in Fantasy- Moonshae Trilogy by Douglas Niles
Initial disclaimer- I'm not fond of these covers. The covers of my father’s books were what drew me to each new series and story that I explored along my budding fantasy journey. The original covers of these books felt dark and ominous compared to what I was reading at the time. While they tried to recreate that effect with these new covers (I admit they’re dark), and they kind of focused on the same scenes as two of the originals, they’re pale imitations that don’t evoke the same interest. I believe I’ve read this trilogy twice in my life, the first when I was thirteen or fourteen. I was tearing through a chunk of Shannara when I noticed my father reading them. I picked them up a few months later and devoured them too. I loved them. They felt swift-moving with lots of action. The books focus on the characters of Tristan, the Prince of Caer Corwell, and Robyn, a young druid apprentice. Tristan fits your tropey heir to the throne personality down to a magic sword in his future. Stubborn and rebellious but well-loved and honorable. He raises hounds, one of which takes a prominent role in the story, although I would not call it an animal companion. Robyn is strong and confident. She is focused on her path as a druid, and her connection to the land is powerful. I enjoy her character arc as she learns to wield new powers and draw from new sources of strength. The Ffolk, the people of the Caer Corwell, worship the goddess of the Moonshae Isles, the Earthmother. Her essence spreads throughout the isles and rises in the form of moon wells, which her “devout” the druids protect and tend, along with their groves. But one of those wells has been defiled. The fetid magic that rises from the corrupted moon well unleashes a threat sealed away long ago, the Beast. A rather simple name for a fairly tropey evil creature bent on destruction with the ability to change shape and wreak havoc in all those special ways pure evil beings do. Another disclaimer- While I may refer to something as tropey, that is not a bad thing, just a description. I like tropes done well. I love seeing how the devices are used differently in different worlds by those who weave a different styling of words. Example: I love the Arthurian Legend. (Only issue- just ONCE, I want Arthur to survive. Here’s looking at you, “Merlin” the tv series. I believed you wouldn’t hurt me like that.) So, trope does not mean bad to me. I enjoy a well-done classic-style fantasy. The Beast, as tropey as it is, does a fair job of frustrating the heroes, in turn irritating me into cheering for its demise. Another wonderful aspect of the series is the presence of fantastic magical beasts. No dragons… Booo! However, the Earthmother does have three children as her protectors The Unicorn, the Leviathan, and the Pack. (The Pack is depicted as an Alpha who leads in the name of the goddess over all the wolf packs of the Moonshae Isles.) Unfortunately, or fortunately, if you enjoy monsters, the corrupted moon well has its own children. Drawn right from the Monster Manuals of the Forgotten Realms, there is a flock of Perytons—half eagle half flesh-eating deer with fierce antlers, the owlbear—a hulking part bear part owl, and the displacer beast—a black panther with tentacles sprouting from its shoulders. It can vanish, creating a mirage of itself to the side of where it is standing. Thus displaced. Like all good epic fantasies, the victory of the first book only delays the inevitable. Success merely draws the gaze of Bhaal, god of death, to the demise of one of his disciples. With a vow to purge the Moonshaes of life and leave them a monument to the dead, he brings his own tools to bear. Pirates, zombies, sahuagin, betraying armies, werewolves, monsters, unicorns, the breadth of fantasy explored in the series is well worth it. While it felt a little more simplistic on my second read, I have read quite a bit in the almost thirty years since, but it held up enough to be enjoyable. I confess the ending was rather bittersweet, as so many books are for me. Yet, perhaps the author, Douglas Niles, can mend my broken Moonshae Isle heart because I discovered something. While researching for this flashback, I stumbled upon a trilogy that followed this, the Druid Home Trilogy. And I feel obliged to seek it out and discover what befell the Moonshae Isles. If you enjoy exploring the older age of what I consider classic-style fantasy, like the literary fare I grew up on, I suggest giving the Moonshae Trilogy a shot.
Have you read the Moonshae Trilogy? What did you think?