cover image KNIGHT OR KNAVE: The Book of the Oak

KNIGHT OR KNAVE: The Book of the Oak

Andre Norton, . . Tor, $23.95 (318pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87337-0

Second in Norton and Miller's Oak, Yew, Ash and Rowan series, this cheerful, childlike, appealing fantasy blithely romps along after its predecessor, To the King a Daughter, replete with whimsical sorcery, swordsmanship and swampy creatures. Arch-manipulator Dowager Queen Ysa struggles for the first half of the book to control her son, King Florian, a vainglorious adolescent so sadistic that everyone, even Ysa, is relieved when he falls to the blade of brave Sea-Rover Obern. Florian's poisoned sword fatally wounds Obern, though, leaving heroine trouble-maker Ashen, Obern's young widow and Florian's illegitimate half-sister, free to wed her dashing heart's desire, Nordor prince-in-exile Gaurin. As Ysa struggles to keep her throne, a mysterious and dangerous magic threatens Rendelsham from the north. Meanwhile, young Rohan, Obern's son and Ashen's fosterling, unmasks sinister Flavielle, a shape-shifting sorceress whom Ysa enlists but who turns out to be a minion of the evil unfolding up north. Norton's fondness and aptitude for medieval styles flavors his jolly panoramas of weddings, feasts, jousts and spells in intrigue-laden Rendelsham. Besides creaky scenario, predictable plotting, one too many kidnappings and the occasional unconvincing twist—e.g., Flavielle turns Rohan's beloved Lady Anamora (literally) into a birdbrain—the sheer good humor and taste of this inoffensive adventure story give bland, comforting entertainment. (June 1)