Red Moon and Black Mountain is the first volume in Joy Chant’s House of Kendreth trilogy.
Siblings Oliver, Penny, and Nicholas Powell set out to explore Essex. Thanks to the intervention of an arcane being, the trio are transported from England to Vandarei. Vandarei needs heroes of a very special sort and English school children have the necessary qualifications.
Penny and Nicholas arrive together but Oliver, somewhat in the lead of his younger siblings, arrives somewhere else entirely.
The nomadic Hurnei are astonished to stumble across Oliver (or as they call him, Li’vahn) out in the wilderness. Strangers are an uncommon sight in the Northern Plains. The nomad way of life is a demanding one, and an English schoolboy is unsuited for it. Just as well that mysterious forces quickly erase Oliver’s memory, overwriting it with the thoughts of a person more suited to Hurnei ways.
Penny and Nicholas arrive on the side of a cold, black mountain. There, they might have frozen to death save for a fated encounter with Princess In’serinna — Daughter of the Stars, Princess of Rennath, and most importantly, Enchantress of the Star Magic — and her entourage. Making an educated guess that the pair are from another world, she offers them hospitality as well a front row seat to a tumultuous battle between evil black eagles and noble white eagles.
After the white eagles’ narrow victory, the Princess provides her guests with context. The black mountain on which they stand is the territory of an evil sorcerer named Fendarl. The black eagles serve him. Fendarl in turn serves the ultimate evil, who has granted Fendarl great power for his service. Even now Fendarl schemes to extend his control over more of the world.
The immediate task ahead of the Princess and her two friends is to avoid capture or if captured, to somehow escape. The next task is to get word to allies like the Hurnei, so that the forces of good may present a unified front against Fendarl’s next foray into the Princess’s kingdom.
Stopping Fendarl’s next attack is only a holding action. Fendarl has wrapped himself in layers of defensive magic. Nothing native to his world can touch him. There is nothing the Princess or her men can to rid their world of the sorcerer, which means Fendarl is free to attack again and again until he wins.
However! Li’vahn is not of this world. Furthermore, Li’vanh has the Hurnei martial skills Oliver lacked. Perhaps Li’vahn can rid the world of the sorcerer… if he is willing to pay the price.
I was astounded to discover how small Joy Chant’s body of work is. Three published fantasy novels, another as yet unpublished, a non-fiction book and some short pieces comprise the majority of it. I was also surprised that to discover Red Moon appears to have been out of print for four decades. Another example of how once-famous works can slide into obscurity.
This is a world with many schools of powerful magic and direct divine intervention but the mundane matters too. Even elite warriors can be overwhelmed by superior numbers. The good guys need to amass as many soldiers as the enemy. To quote a certain person, quantity has a quality of its own.
Much of the plot involves the price of power and victory. Each school of magic has requirements, founded in natural rather than human law . Trying to break the rules has unpleasant consequences. Star Magic of the sort the Princess and Fendarl use, for example, is very easily corrupted: “We dare not stray an inch from our path; we dare not yield a step to evil.”
Given these strict moral restrictions, one might think drafting children from another universe to brainwash one into a weapon specifically forged to deal with an unkillable wizard would be forbidden1. In fact, despite the Princess’ belief that this is a world of blackest evil and whitest virtue, there are many shades of gray. Necessity drives compromise2.
This was grimmer than I expected a juvenile fantasy to be. Fighting evil is more terrifying than fun and the cost of victory is depressing, outweighed only by the cost of losing.
Red Moon and Black Mountain is out of print.
1: Oliver also presents a solution for an impending need to find a human sacrifice for an upcoming ceremony, provided only that he can be manipulated into accepting the role.
2: In fact, as she points out Fendarl’s Kelanat pawns are easily manipulated into attacking the Princess’ people because they balance not being especially evil with also being not very good. Additionally, “they somehow feel that things which are wrong when one man does them are not wrong when many do them together.”