Flashback Fridays: Cross the highways of fantasy . . .

You’re a teenage girl who finds herself swept out of the contemporary world of Earth and into another world–one of strange people, languages and magic.  It seems you’ve been sent to this world, not on accident, but with a purpose, and that purpose will lead you to adventure.

Do you remember:

The Colors in the Dreamweaver’s Loom by Beth Hilgartener (Houghton Mifflin, c1989)

I was thinking about old favorites the other day and this book, the first of a duology, sprang to mind.  Whenever it was I found this, it was a huge  hit with me, despite the rather mouthful of a title.  I mean, a girl struggling with her own sadness and pain gets zapped into another world?  In that world she’s found and taken in by a peaceful group of forest people, and taught their language.  Alexandra Scarsdale in her own world, here she is T’san, which means stranger.  The Orathi believe that T’san has been sent to them with some special purpose–and when folks come from the city with demands, T’san believes her destiny must involve protecting the people who have taken her in.  She journeys to the city with her young friends, twins with special gifts of their own.  She goes to parley with the ruler of the city, but instead finds herself on a greater journey, one where she will gather other friends and allies along the way.

The goal of that journey is to gather a person of each type from the world and gain a god or goddesses own blessing and decree that the Forest people are protected.  T’san joins up with an odd cast of characters, each who is a misfit in their own culture and has struggled with their differences.  Through the journey, each learns how to harness their own set of abilities to help the others in order to reach their final destination.  But that destination turns out to be only half the story . . .

This is one of those books that you really will find perplexing in the “wait–what?  that’s the end?!!” kind of way.  The author leaves our characters with so many particular issues unresolved and new problems to deal with, that it doesn’t seem fair that the book should end like that. Fortunately there is a sequel.

The Feast of the Trickster (1991)

On the plus side, the second book in the duology definitely wraps up the story and lets readers know what is happening with our characters.  On the less positive side for those readers who loved how the first half of this story was set in the fantasy realm and wish for more of the same, a good portion of the story is actually set on contemporary Earth (1980s Earth) with our fantasy characters trying to find T’san (Alexandra).  While the story is an interesting one, our main characters take a back seat to newer characters for much of the plot, and it goes in a direction that readers probably would not have predicted.

I’d say I prefer the first half of the story but can’t deny there was some satisfaction having it wrapped up in the second half.  Also, there’s a certain strangeness to finding beloved fantasy characters you were so used to in their own realm suddenly landing in contemporary Earth world.  I have to wonder if I would have found these books quite as appealing had the fantasy tropes in them been more familiar to me at the time.  The fantasy world, while well-written and enjoyable to travel through, is not wholly unfamiliar.   Peaceful forest folk, warlike city-folk, fierce desert tribes,  a range of gods and goddesses with their own whims . . . it’s possible that half the enjoyment of this story was it was some of my first exposure to these elements.  Although I had come across some of the swords and sorcery fantasy stuff in Tamora Pierce’s  Song of the Lioness quartet, this changed the focal point, putting a contemporary character in the hero slot–allowing the reader to imagine they’d gotten swept up into a fantasy story.  Overall in the first book, T’san acts a bit more as a cipher character for readers.  It’s not that she lacks personality at all, but rather her back story and former life are put at a remove, and not really part of the adventure for this tale.  T’san, like the reader, has been thrown into this other world and now must adapt to it and grow to understand it.

While this is a teen story line with a romance, things remain fairly lightweight and perfectly fine for tween readers.  Given the nature of the story itself, it probably remains a better fit for the younger set of readers.  I’m honestly surprised this has never been reprinted or made available in an e-book format.  While I can understand that the contemporary setting in the second book is fairly dated, that’s true of many interworld fantasies, but it hasn’t prevented them from being enjoyed.

Sadly, Beth Hilgartner, the author of this series wrote fairly few books for children and YA audiences overall.  Other than this duology, I think all of her other titles remain firmly in YA.  I’ve always been a bit disappointed that that there isn’t more fantasy out there by this author.  She has an interesting approach to her stories and creates characters that are flawed and appealing at the same time. And this particular duology has stuck with me over the years, despite the hundreds of other fantasy stories I’ve read and enjoyed.

Any other fans out there?  Comments welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on September 19, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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