Backtracking

The Winter Players — Tanith Lee

Winter-Players

You might think after my experiences scrambling to find the books I wanted to review for the Fifty Nortons in Fifty Weeks project, I would have learned to acquire all the books needed for grand projects before I launched them. Nope, which is why I am reviewing Tanith Lee’s 1976 standalone fantasy The Winter Players now, in May 2016, and not back in late 2015 as planned.

Bronze-haired Oaive is the latest in a long line of priestesses, each trained by her predecessor in the arts of magic. Their duties are to protect their village and to guard the three sacred relics hidden within the shrine: the Ring, the Jewel and the Bone.

Sixteen-year-old Oaive has been priestess for just two years when the grey-haired stranger comes to town. He ends a way of life that has persisted beyond memory and history.


Grey, as the stranger unhelpfully names himself, is polite but very determined. He will have the Bone, and if Oaive will not give it to him willingly, he will take it from her. He has magic of his own and as the struggle that follows proves, his is more powerful than hers.

Rather than submit to the loss of the Bone, Oaive abandons the village where she has lived her whole life. Her magic may not have been powerful enough to overcome Grey but it is certainly good enough to help her track him across unfamiliar lands. Even if magic fails her, Oaive is a smart woman, more than able to find her quarry by logic alone. Finding Grey should be easy enough; recovering what he took will be merely a matter of cunning and preparation.

The only problem with her plan is that Grey isn’t her true enemy. He is merely a pawn of something far more powerful than either Grey or Oaive.

 ~oOo~

It was only after I acquired this that I discovered that it is less a novel than a novella with ambition. It’s long enough to have been published as a chapbook, but anyone expecting a modern bus-crusher is going to be surprised. Even for the 1970s, when the taste was for books much shorter than today’s, this is pretty short.

Brevity limits how complex the plot can be, but Lee still manages to throw in a few twists. Oaive takes a while to work out exactly what game Grey is playing as he leads her across the world. She does not work out its ultimate purpose until all seems lost. Happily for Grey and the world in general, she’s a lot smarter than he is1. Bold and bright heroines for the win!

Perhaps because this is so short, it has not often been in print. I would have expected that it would be included in collections here and there, but as far as I can tell, St. Martin’s Companions on the Road and The Winter Players is the only collection in which this ever appeared. That collection only saw two printings. The good news is, if you are British you can buy a copy here. Everyone else better have access to competent purveyors of used books.

1: Given their opponent’s history, it is arguably good for him that Oaive eventually makes the choice that she does. He might not see it that way.

Title

Missing or dead moms

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players


2

Total

20

19*

* Includes one uncle.


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