No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, May 26, 2016

2016/30: The Jargoon Pard -- Andre Norton

Were I to so kill — yes, that deed would be but another key to lock me inside the beast. Maughus was my enemy, a threat to me — yes. But as such he must be fronted man to man. If I drew his blood with claw and fang, I trapped myself in the wilder breed. [loc. 2639]
I first read this novel at school, and adored it (though I'm not sure I realised that it was set in the Witch World universe). Reread recently after Justina Robson mentioned it in an interview. It's aged pretty well, though I now find Norton's prose rather overblown.

Kethan grows up in an isolated keep in Arvon, not knowing his father. His mother, the Lady Heloise, is ambitious and hopes to rule through him when he reaches his majority: her constant companion is the wise woman Ursilla, and neither of them is particularly fond of or affectionate towards Kethan. Nor is anybody else -- his cousin Maughus hates and fears him, and his betrothed, Thaney, shrinks from him. It's possible that one of Ursilla's rituals, performed upon a young and ignorant Kethan, is the cause of the 'barrier' he senses between him and every other living thing.

When he's fifteen, Thaney gives Kethan a fur belt with an elaborate carved clasp featuring a snarling cat. Wearing the belt transforms him into something to hunt and be hunted. Fleeing his home, he encounters a mysterious trio who use colour magic (red for the body, yellow for the mind, green for growing things, blue for emotions etc) and seem to have their hearts in the right places. But they can't permit the shadowy forces pursuing Kethan to destroy their own sanctuary ...

The Jargoon Pard is a novel about becoming oneself, I suppose: about holding to one's principles, finding one's limits and fulfilling one's potential. And it's about family, found and otherwise. Reading it now, it feels quite slight: but reading it as a teenager, it was exciting and surprising, full of reversals and feelings and the desire to belong. Or just to run free under the moonlight. Good times.

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