Quest for the White Witch

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Quest for the White Witch by Tanith Lee.

The end of this final book of Tanith Lee’s Birgthgrave trilogy makes an interesting contrast/complement to the end of the first. Where The Birthgrave ended with something like a deus ex machina that in some ways tore open the narrative, Quest for the White Witch concludes in a way that seems retrospectively inevitable, and completely within the frame of the larger story. Still, as with the first book, I can imagine some readers being outraged by the “twist” of the ending.

The trilogy as a whole defies the usual three-phase structure of beginning-middle-end, which seems to be consistent with the history of its writing, where the first book was likely conceived as a stand-alone novel. The second book is therefore a second beginning with a new protagonist, and the third is a sequel that ties the two earlier ones together. The result is a sort of dialectical progression.

I had remarked that the second book, Vazkor, Son of Vazkor, had a lower level of numinosity than the original novel, but as its protagonist attains near-omnipotence in this third book there is numinosity to spare. There is also a greater sense of historical sweep and the destiny of peoples and nations, not so central but akin to that found in Lee’s Wars of Vis novels.

One of the odd features of this book is the sustained dramatic irony, since the reader of the first volume necessarily knows more about the object of his quest than does the ambivalent antihero Vazkor Junior. In the first half of the book, though, Lee introduces a fascinating set of events that can make the reader question assumptions about the White Witch of the title, thus maintaining suspense and allowing readers to better appreciate the protagonist’s perspective. [via]