James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

The Sorceress’ Tale

Sorceress of the Witch World  (Estcarp, volume 5)

By Andre Norton 

7 Aug, 2015

50 Nortons in 50 Weeks


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

1968’s Sorceress of the Witch World picks up where Warlock of the Witch World left off. Kaththea is still recovering from being stripped of her magic by her brother (done to save her from a mistaken alliance with the extremely hunky forces of darkness). When she is separated from her friends by an avalanche, her magic cannot save her.

However, her magical potential can get her into more trouble.…

Kaththea is captured by Vupsall nomads before she can die of starvation and exposure. They see a use for her: their Wise Woman needs a successor. Kaththea’s magic is not gone; it’s just sealed off. Wise Woman Utta sees that magical potential as clearly as she would note a rising moon in a clear sky. Utta is old and painfully aware that her remaining days are numbered; the prisoner is the only available wise woman candidate; Utta is determined to force Kaththea to serve the nomads. She decides to reverse Kemoc’s meddling and begins the long job of restoring Kaththea’s magic.

While Kaththea has a certain amount of sympathy for the barbarians, who were forced out of their eastern coastal homeland by sea-raiders not unlike those plaguing the western lands, she also has no intention of remaining with them. Her desire to escape redoubles after she learns that she is expected to become one of the wives of the tribal leader. 

Kaththea’s bid to escape the Vupsall is a partial success; success in the sense that she gets away from the nomads, failure in the sense that she stumbles through one of the many, many inter-dimensional gates to which the Witch World is home. She falls into the waiting arms of malevolent technological genius Zandur. Like Utta, Zandur has a use for Kaththea. She is to be a living battery serving his other unfortunate captive, the sorcerer Hilarion.

Hilarion is an obvious ally for Kaththea, but she has doubts. After all, in the past, she has shown woefully bad judgment where hunky men of stupendous mystical power are concerned.…


This book contains painted breasts galore; it has the highest painted-breast-frequency of any of the Norton novels I have read. And not by a small margin. That was a surprise. 

First, an answer for a question I asked in the previous review: it turns out that Escore’s rich assortment of humanoid races is thanks to bored adepts (uninhibited by anything like professional ethics) playing at genetic engineering. I had guessed that the various races were immigrating via the inter-dimensional gates that riddle the Witch World landscape.

Also, we do find out what happened to Simon and Lady Jaelithe. I confess I was surprised when that question was resolved; I was sure it was going to be justification for a whole nother novel or even an entire series.

Readers may choose to debate whether or not Kaththea had any responsibility to the Vupsall. On the one hand, the Vupsall are not her people; they capture and imprison her; they expect her to adhere to customs abhorrent to her. On the other hand, Kaththea might not have recovered her magic except for Utta; also, it becomes painfully obvious that the nomads really are incapable of surviving without a wise woman. On the gripping hand, who is to say that even if Kaththea had decided to stay with the nomads that she would not simply have shared their dismal fate? Their track record does not suggest survival is a likely outcome under any circumstances.

It does bother me that poor Kaththea does not get to be as unquestionably heroic as her two brothers. However, because of that, she does get to be more of a complex character. Having screwed up rather egregiously when she allied herself with Dinzil, she has to struggle with doubts that simply would never occur to either of her brothers. Self-doubt is not enough to keep her from considering using a handy mundane as a meat puppet when necessary, but at least she’s more aware of the ethical issues involved than her fellow captive Hilarion seems to be.

I am left wondering how far in advance Norton plotted out this series. In an earlier book, there’s a prophecy re the trio: Together — one and great — apart far less!”. The series as eventually written doesn’t seem to support that. The trio are very attached to each other (in the case of Kemoc towards Kaththea, maybe too attached), but none of them seem to have any trouble accomplishing great deeds away from their siblings [1]. What they do when together does not seem especially noteworthy compared their solo adventures. It’s almost as though there should be a fourth book showing what the trio accomplished when they finally got their acts together. Ah, well.

This is available as part of the omnibus Lost Lands of the Witch World.

1: Although Kaththea not only occasionally plays for Team Evil, she’s really, really prone to being kidnapped. This may count as a legitimate disability under the ADA.