cover image The Iron Ring

The Iron Ring

Lloyd Alexander. Dutton Books, $16.99 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-525-45597-4

A master storyteller draws loosely on the great myths and literature of India in this semi-mystical epic adventure. It begins with a riveting scene: bound by the principles of dharma (the code of honor), the young king Tamar receives a disagreeable guest, King Jaya, who insists on playing a high-stakes game of dice; after winning round after round, Tamar is obliged to gamble on his very life--and loses. He pledges to travel to King Jaya's palace to make good on his debt, although it may well mean his death. The next morning, however, Tamar's courtiers have no recollection of Jaya's visit and are sure that Tamar has simply dreamed it. But a ring on Tamar's finger convinces him that, dream or not, he is honor-bound to undertake the journey. The journey proves more important than the destination, and along the way Tamar's conduct earns him a retinue that includes various talking animals as well as the cowherd Mirri, a typically self-possessed Alexander heroine. Once they have fallen in love, the quest involves them in the downfall of both an evil king and a rapacious demon seeking a gem with the power to determine life and death. Alexander's emphasis on Tamar's psychological/spiritual growth adds a personal note to the epic material, but lessens the sweep of such climactic scenes as the defeat of the evil king with the help of monkeys and forest elephants and tends to flatten the cliffhangers that close almost every chapter. In balance, however, the imaginative scope of the story and its philosophical complexities will make this an exciting journey for the reader as well. Ages 10-up. (May)