the Little Red Reviewer

Witch World, by Andre Norton

Posted on: December 3, 2011

Witch World, by Andre Norton

Published in 1963

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Andre Norton, the woman who has not one, but two literary genre awards named after her.  She broke glass ceilings left and right, has a near endless list of books to her name, and is rightfully so a legend in the science fiction community.  Her Witch World series started with a few stories, and grew exponentially to cover over 20 novels and novellas known as the Estcarp Cycle and the High Hallack Cycle.

What I’m getting at here is that if you style yourself a science fiction fan, read yourself some Norton. She may not use the flashiest guns or the shiniest spaceships, but these are the stories your favorite authors grew up reading. These are the stories that influenced many of the authors who are influencing you.

If there is such a thing as traditional sci-fantasy, Witch World is it.  Simon Tregarth, soldier turned bootlegger is running from the law. Approached by a gentleman who promises he can hide Simon forever, Simon doesn’t have much of a choice. Offered a doorway to the “world his heart desires”, Simon finds himself someplace. . . strange.  After saving a woman who is being hunted, Simon slowly learns about this new world. Escarp is a country ruled by women who have the Power (witches), and the surrounding countries are primarily male dominated cultures who wish to take over Estcarp.  Estcarp’s highly trained guardsmen (assisted by Simon) can take care of most of her enemies. But the soldiers of the Kolder, that’s a different story all together. Once they are on the march, no amount of guns or arrows will stop the creatures of Kolder.

Only women have the power of magic in this world, and once they age and start families, they lose their magic. They can also lose control of their power by telling someone their name.  How can a population continue if by continuing it loses it’s protection?  And what’s the point of power or protection when even that can’t stop the creatures of Kolder?  When it’s discovered that Simon has some of the power that until now has been reserved for women, perhaps he can find away to destroy Kolder, once and for all.  If only they could figure out exactly what his power can do. . .

One of Norton’s most famous series, and the book that brought untold quantities of young fans to the genre. In many cases, this is the book that people think of when they hear the name Andre Norton.   Just a few of the many reasons it kills me to say the story did absolutely nothing for me.

Maybe the story suffers from “first in a series” syndrome, where an author feels so much pressure to cram in a lot of background and world building (and boy is there a ton of that), that there just isn’t much room left for characterization.  We get to know Simon pretty well, and he’s actually a very interesting character, especially when he’s trying to rationalize the existence of magic and all the other strange things that occur in his new world.  There are two witches who become main characters, and I’d love to tell you about them but it would require sentences drowning in “she” and “her”, and we would both lose track of which “she” and “her” I was talking about.  That happened in the book a handful of times as well.  While there are some chunks of writing that are simply sublime, other areas were so difficult to parse that I simply had no idea which character was doing what to whom. I’d be lying if I said  it wasn’t a struggle for me to finish the book.

And after all that, will I continue reading in this series?  Actually, I think so.  You see, it was the very end that did it for me. Simon makes such a staggering discovery in the enemy stronghold (not what you think, trust me), that I’ve just got to see what happens.

but the bigger question is, should you read this? I say give it a try if you come across it, and if it doesn’t grab you don’t feel too awful about it. But definitely pick up another Norton title, because her science fiction is wonderful.

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19 Responses to "Witch World, by Andre Norton"

Next month our blog will be teaming up with Good Show Sir for a challenge to read books like this…with terrible covers. I hope you don’t mind if I link to your review here, this is perfect. :D

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no problem Bryce! Next month is my “Vintage SF month”, so I bet there will be plenty of bizarre covers to choose from.

and don’t be surprised if I link right back to you, to plug some of that wonderful old school science fiction!

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I completely support that. :D I’m looking forward to the rest of this month. I need to have a similar month, mainly to clear my shelves of books I own but have yet to read.

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I think I’ll have to add some Norton to my 2012 Sci-Fi experience. I’ve never read her and always meant to.

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This wasn’t my favorite of Norton’s tales, but it was still a classic. I totally agree with you, if you are even vaguely interested in Science Fiction, you really should read at least some of her works.

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Thanks for doing a review on a classic novel. I’d hate for folks to forget all the books that paved the way to what’s being published today. I have a bunch of vintage paperbacks (but not this one), each is about 150-ish pages, and all are quick reads. I wish someone would start releasing these as reasonably priced e-books because hard copies are tough to find.

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I’ve reviewed a small handful of classics so far, stick around for my January Vintage SF month, we can both make a dent in our collections of 150-ish page long vintage paperbacks.

I also wish many of these were reprinted, paper or electronic, even if it was 3 or 4 novels together in a larger, 500-600 page volume, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

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You can find them sometimes: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Lands-Witch-World-ebook/dp/B003J5UHVU/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1322968088&sr=1-2

or on Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search.html/?default_prefix=author_id&sort_order=downloads&query=7021
It depends on how old the copyright is, how copyrights from 1965 translate to e-book rights, and also it’s just a slow, slow process.

I’m working for Juliet E. McKenna to e-book her back list, and it’s sssllllloooooowwww.

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Also, I love all this rediculous old cover art. WTF is that totem pole bird hat thing and I want one of those hairdryer pistols.

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Brilliant!
Had not heard of either Mrs. Norton or Witch World but now will most assuredly be checking out both.
I’ve always had a fascination and affinity for the older stories and the pulps, something about the wilder imagination, the limited desire to rationalise at times and the extreme flights of fancy and the language that accompanied it.
Thanks for sharing, will be adding your blog to my blogroll and look forward to finding more gems and things as you do.
Cheers!

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I mostly want to know about the hat with the bird beak on it, lol.

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I have put my reading of Star Born on hold for January, but the 40 pages I have read thus far are great. It feels very Heinlein-esque, at least in comparison to his juveniles.

Despite the fact that I have yet to actually read Norton, this is a series I’ve known about for awhile. I’m sorry to hear that the first one didn’t do much for you and if you do read the next one I’ll be interested to hear if you think her writing improves or if you just take to it more with the second book.

Your quote:
“What I’m getting at here is that if you style yourself a science fiction fan, read yourself some Norton. She may not use the flashiest guns or the shiniest spaceships, but these are the stories your favorite authors grew up reading. These are the stories that influenced many of the authors who are influencing you.”

is exactly the way I feel about so many of the vintage/classic science fiction novels I have enjoyed reading. If you read classics with that mindset it makes them come alive in a way that they would not do otherwise.

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I also was lukewarm about Witch World, but read and re-read Beastmaster by Andre Norton.

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I’m probably not going to continue in this series, but I do have a stack of Norton SF stand alones that I am looking lovingly at. In a way, the story reminded me a little of McCaffrey’s Dragonflight books – classic sci-fantasy, great concept, interesting characters that I wanted to learn more about, but the writing and dialog was flat. :(

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This is the only series I have read by Andre Norton and I really enjoyed it when I read it years ago, so I am surprised by the comments that this is not her best work. Perhaps I will have to pick up something else by her!

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there are a ton of books in this series, so maybe they get better later on?

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Oh, I didn’t know that. I actually only have the first five. For some reason, when I think of that series I also think of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. Those are also books that may not use the flashiest guns but are classic sci-fi with fascinating world building.

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I haven’t, sadly, read any Norton. I know! I did pick up a used book written by her recently, and I’ll get to it sooner or later, but I know until I start reading her work I’ll feel a bit like a poser SF fan. Sigh.

…also. I love love the old school cover art. :D

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don’t ever feel like a poser SF fan, and I feel terrible if this post made you feel that way. :( If you read or watch any SF whatsoever, new stuff or old stuff or both, you are a fan, end of story.

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