In an ancient Scottish kingdom, a king lies dying from a mysterious ailment. Whatever has happened to him is connected to the ring that suddenly appeared on his finger and cannot be removed. When he is seemingly moments from passing, and his wife and son are gathered mournfully around his deathbed, a fey visitor arrives in the courtyard on a magnificent horse claiming he can save the monarch’s life. His name is Albaric, and although everyone else in the household fears him the king’s son Aric feels an immediate affinity towards the beautiful young man. It is only when Albaric removes the ring by the aid of magic and the king appears to revive that Albaric reveals he is also a son to the king. It is a revelation that threatens to tear the royal family apart, and Aric’s allegiance to his new fey brother is tested to the limit as darkness threatens to overwhelm the kingdom.
Let’s start with an admission. Tachyon is swiftly becoming this writer’s favourite publishing house for fantasy fiction and this latest offering from Nancy Springer is right up there with other authors in their stable like Patricia A. McKillip, Peter S. Beagle, and Ellen Klages. This is luminous writing that enfolds the reader like a spell from the very first page. Some may find the stylistic language and first-person POV off-putting to begin with but stick with it because there is something beautifully out-of-time about the way Springer weaves her words that fit the atmosphere of this tale enormously well. This is an alien medieval world, but her prose makes us feel immediately at home here.
But what really sets The Oddling Prince apart from other similarly-themed stories is its emotional intensity. The bond between Aric and Albaric feels totally real, and the complicated relationship that emerges between Albaric and their father has a genuine heart-breaking complexity. We might be in the realms of fantasy, but the dynamics between the characters - the love, guilt, doubt and pain - are all recognisably human. Albaric is fey, but he has given up so much (including his immortality) to save the king’s life and be among mortals, and Aric - as the only character who truly feels Albaric’s agony - is a good-hearted man who is immediately torn between his loyalty for his newly-discovered sibling and his fealty to his king, a king who seems to deny Albaric’s very existence. There are other fantastic characters in this book, moments of great action, and a genuine external jeopardy to overcome, but it is this intriguing push-pull between the three men that we believe makes The Oddling Prince such a richly textured and transformative read. Hold onto your bows and arrows Elflings, we might have an early contender for the best fantasy novel of 2018.
THE ODDLING PRINCE / AUTHOR: NANCY SPRINGER / PUBLISHER: TACHYON PUBLICATIONS / RELEASE DATE: MAY 31 ST