Round 1, Match 6: The Riddle-Master of Hed vs. The Road Home

1_6Judged by Katie • find her on Goodreads and Twitter


Something I think about a lot, especially when reading debuts, is the problem of first books in a series. They have to do so much when it comes to establishing a world and characters. Perhaps the hardest thing is to engage the reader’s interest enough for the reader to come back.

Last year, I read the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. And I struggled through the first book. I had trouble with the writing, trouble with the plot and I wasn’t sure about the characters. I came very close to not finishing the book, but so many of my trusted friends loved it that I kept going. Once I got to the halfway point, it was easier for me to keep going and I decided to continue the series.

And I fell completely in love.

I now count it among one of my favorite series. But if I’d read the first book when it came out, when I didn’t have others’ opinions to lean on and I couldn’t immediately move on to other, hopefully better books in the series, I wouldn’t have had that experience. There wasn’t enough there for me to seek out the next book when it came out, long after I’d read the first one.

I am telling this story because, as you may have figured out, one of the books I’m judging is the first in a series. (Okay, a trilogy, but that still count as a series, right?)

I briefly considered reading the entire Riddle-Master trilogy before writing this, but, ultimately, decided not to. I am judging The Riddle-Master of Hed vs. The Road Home, not the Riddle-Master trilogy vs. The Road Home. And reading more than that first book would inevitably influence my opinion.

So. Let’s look at these two books.

The Road Home is by Ellen Emerson White. White happens be the author of the President’s Daughter series, another all-time favorite of mine. And this book reminded me of The President’s Daughter at times. Both heroines are smart young women who go through awful experiences and have to deal with what comes after that experience.

I love that last aspect, by the way. We get to see the characters attempting to return to the life they had before and figuring out how to move on. I think that’s immensely valuable.

In this book, we first meet the main character, Rebecca Phillips, during the Vietnam War. We’re immediately dropped into her life as a nurse in Vietnam. And I was immediately sucked into that world. The horror of war, and the horror of not even having the time to mentally deal with the horror.

I want to call this book realistic, but then I realized that, well, I don’t know much about the Vietnam War. It was before I was born and I don’t remember learning much about it in school. But it felt realistic and it fit with the little I do know about the war (particularly, the treatment of soldiers in the United States).

And there is hope in this book. Sometimes, it’s hard to see that hope. When Rebecca goes back home, it’s not easy. She doesn’t know what to do next and she can’t really talk to anyone about her experiences, her feelings, or anything much at all. This, too, struck me as incredibly realistic. It is hard going. But, in the end, there is hope.

(Hope is also the name of my cat. Hi Hope!)

The Riddle-Master of Hed feels like – and is – the first part of a story. We meet Morgon, a young man who has a destiny he doesn’t know and doesn’t particularly want. And yet he is forced to pursue it.

I struggled a bit with that aspect of the story. I understood wanting to know answers and I understood his desire for home. But I thought the conflict between those two was too drawn out, that Morgon changed his mind too many times. Often, it felt like Morgon was just wandering through life with no purpose. And, too, I had trouble fully understanding the world.

Perhaps because of this, I found the book less compelling than The Road Home. It was far easier to put down and harder to pick back up.

Still, the Riddle-Master trilogy, like the Kate Daniels series, is highly recommended by trusted friends, and the first book gave me enough to pick up the next book in the series. And I might just end up loving it as much as I love Kate Daniels.

But that’s not what this battle is about. I’m not choosing between what I might love in the future, I’m choosing between two books right now. And, for me, for now, The Road Home is the one that sucked me in and gave me that kind of hopeful ending that I love.

Maybe once I read the rest of the Riddle-Master trilogy, I’ll be sorry I didn’t pick it, but, for now, I choose The Road Home.


Congratulations to The Road Home, which moves on to Round 2!

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11 thoughts on “Round 1, Match 6: The Riddle-Master of Hed vs. The Road Home

  1. Much as I love the Riddle-Master trilogy, I have to agree that the first book does not stand well on its own. Heir of Sea and Fire makes a much better standalone title.

    1. I LOVE Heir of Sea and Fire, but I think I need to disagree with you re: standalone! I just reread it this past weekend and I think I’d have been lost without rereading Riddle Master first.

      (Though I do think the best reading experience is all three books back to back. I suppose I should’ve assigned the three-in-one volume.)

  2. I should clarify that I think the whole trilogy is more or less one book, so saying Heir of Sea and Fire is a better standalone just means that the other two don’t work on their own at all, as far as I’m concerned. Heir of Sea and Fire is pretty much Raederle’s story, beginning to end, which is why I think it can stand better by itself–you really only need to know who Morgon is in general terms, and you get most of that in the first chapter. It might just be that I used to read it all by itself, over and over again…it’s still not nearly as fun if you don’t know who all the land-rulers are when Raederle meets them.

    I took Patricia McKillip to lunch about twenty years ago and she was so gracious to this hopeless fangirl. I absolutely did not know what to say to her.

  3. I might, just might have had something to do with the inclusion of THE ROAD HOME in the battle and so am very pleased that you fell in love with it too! That said, I’m a longtime Patricia McKillip fan so this pairing was one of the harder ones. If you have any lingering feelings that it might not have been quite ‘fair’ to judge RIDDLE-MASTER as a standalone, you might take comfort in the fact that THE ROAD HOME is also the fifth in a series. And a perfect standalone too, of course, but still – there’s all that huge amount of emotional power and depth, and you haven’t even been with the characters through the first four books. It’s an amazing accomplishment, from a detached perspective – and a detached perspective is what I lack utterly about the books. 🙂

    1. Wow, sorry for the late reply on this. I wondered why I stopped getting comment notifications and it turns out they were in my spam folder! (As an IT professional, I should’ve checked there way before.)

      Anyway–well, thank you for getting it included! 😀 I did know it was part of a series, though it seems like a bit of a different case. Still, it’s a good point!

      1. It wasn’t a late reply at all! You’re absolutely right, it is a totally different case. 🙂 But all flippancy aside, I’ve just finished reading the fourth of the Echo Company books, having gone back and started with the first after falling in love with The Road Home and now I’m even more impressed with how well it works as a standalone. There are a lot of slow arcs that build from the earlier books, and interesting parallels that work to further develop the rightness of her depiction of these characters’ emotional states, and yet it’s just so powerful even read without the help of those. Just amazing.

        1. So after I left that comment last night, I started thinking more about this and . . . well, basically concluded I NEEDED to read those books. 🙂 I think it would help some of the emotional arcs of The Road Home click even more into place for me.

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