Today, dear web friends, I’m going to share with you one of my old favorites, which is also one of the best books you’ve never heard of.
Okay, it’s quite possible that everyone in the world but me has heard about this book ad nauseum since the day it was released (some time in 1996, I believe), and I, in my little cave of uncoolness, simply missed the hubbub. That’s been known to happen. I’m totally one of those people who would be like–wait . . . the zombie apocalypse started? Why didn’t anybody TELL me? Like at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead. (Am I turning in to one of those people who can relate everything to zombies? That’s a really scary thought.)
Anyway. I first encountered One For The Morning Glory years ago on the bargain shelves at a Barnes and Noble in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’d never heard of it, but the cover and book description immediately piqued my curiosity.
It is said (by whom, we are not certain) that a child who tastes the Wine of the Gods too early is only half a person afterwards. Young Prince Amatus learned all too well the bitter truth of htat ancient saying when he secretly sipped the forbidden elixir, leaving him literally half the lad he’d once been–not just a figure of speech; indeed, his left side vanished without a trace.
His father, the fierce but fair King Boniface, was (only a figure of speech in this instance) beside himself, and the royal retainers responsible for the mishap were punished severely, leaving the young prince entirely without protectors. but a year and a day later, four mysterious strangers appeared to take their places. And since a year and a day is an auspicious time in tales of this sort, it was clear to King Boniface that Great Matters Were Afoot.
Golias, a burly itinerant scholar, applied for the post of royal alchemist. Mortis, a chilly, lovely sorceress with scaly skin and silver hair, offered her services as court witch. Psyche, a simple young maid with sea-gray eyes and a musical voice, came to be the prince’s caretaker. And seeking the position of Captain of the Guard came a grim, gnarled, giant manslayer in an iron mask–a figure known only as the Twisted man.
There were whispers that these outlanders were not what they seemed, and King Boniface had many misgivings, but at last he relented–just as well, or there would be no tale to tell. As Amatus grew to manhood, the four Companions helped him cope with his curious curse and guided him on a perilous quest to discover his true destiny–and, of course, excitement, danger, tragedy, triumph, and true love.
As I’ve mentioned before, high fantasy (a.k.a. epic fantasy) is not usually my thing; I tend to prefer urban fantasy/mythic fiction. One for the Morning Glory is an exception to my no epic fantasy preferences. I have heard it compared to The Princess Bride, and it does have a similar tone and quirky sense of humor.
There is so much to love about this novel. Characters with names like Pell Grant and Sir John Slitgizzard. A really creepy goblins sequence, and a melancholy, eerie vampire thread. The kind of prose that makes you want to read out loud. And a brave, strong, smart-mouthed female love interest, who plays an important role in saving the world, rather than waiting patiently at home in a pretty dress.
Come to think of it, all of the characters are wonderful–Barnes writes with humor and wit, but never gets so caught up in his own cleverness that he turns his characters in to farcical devices. And in the end I think what makes this book so delightful is that Barnes balances his wit and whimsy with tenderness and warmth, so that even when you’re laughing, you care what happens to his characters.