Book Review: Dark Castle, White Horse

Dark Castle, White Horse
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Paperback, 302 pages
1986, DAW
ISBN: 0886771137

A girl in a black castle sends a summoning spell for someone to help free her from her ancient guardians. A wandering bard with a magical harp made with bone answers the call, but so does a force of evil. A prince who cannot remember his past, nor even his name, finds himself atop a talking horse on his way to a castle made of bone.

This book is actually comprised of two separate stories, The Castle of Dark and Prince on a White Horse. Thematically, I’m sure they have something in common, aside from both being fantasy adventures, but I don’t really know what. I picked it up because I need to read more of my Tanith collection and it’s vintage sci-fi month (hosted by my friend Jason) so what better time to start? Also that cover! –heart eyes-

Sometimes it’s hard for me to review Tanith’s work because I love almost everything of hers I’ve read so far. I just want to say “I love her work, read it!” Her books are instantaneously atmospheric and immersive and I love her simplistic, yet detailed style. I tweeted about the feeling of experiencing real magic when I read a book of hers (or any favorite author really.)  So I’ll try to make some sense, but I can’t promise anything.

The Castle of Dark introduces readers to Lilune, a young girl imprisoned in a strange castle by two old crones. She knows nothing about the world outside the castle because she’s never allowed to leave and she is allowed to roam the castle grounds only at night, as she must sleep during the day. She uses the only spell she’s learned from her captors in an attempt to summon someone to help her escape and so Lir, a harper, comes to her aid. Once free of the castle, the two blunder their way through the surrounding forest, hampered by Lilune’s weakness to sunlight and her compulsion to sleep during the day. They’re separated and when Lilune is off adventuring on her own is when the book truly started to show Tanith’s skill for world building and atmosphere. I liked Lilune because she showed growth, despite the short length of the story. Lir felt a little standard, as far as the hero character goes, but I didn’t mind.

Prince on a White horse had a surprisingly funny tone. A prince who knows nothing about who he is or where he’s from wakes in a strange land with only a talking horse to guide him – though when asked, the horse replies that he cannot talk. Even though the prince is tasked with saving this weird realm from a source of great evil, the story remained lighthearted. I don’t think I’ve ever chuckled so much when reading one of Tanith’s books before. The prince has a very RPG experience, in that he’s incredibly lucky and many characters come to aid or hinder him in cliché ways, but that’s what made the story entertaining.

I, of course, recommend this book to everyone because it’s Tanith and I enjoyed it.

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