Monday, June 8, 2009

Blue Starred Mages and Goat F***ers

Anyone recognize this book?

I love Marion Zimmer Bradley (or MZB as she is affectionately known).  For all the skeletons and scandals in her closet, how can you not love a little old lady that channels antediluvian history, writes like a crack-addled wiccan, and helped found the SCA?  I mean that with all sincerity...I find her stuff great.  And she did A LOT to promote other authors (especially of the small scale, fantasy writing type).  You want to talk "old school?" Check out her Darkover novels for some real crosses of sci-fi and psionics with Sword and Sorcery pulp.

Of course, for my money I prefer Lythande...but we'll get to her/him in a second.

I do hang out with kids these days (of the under 17 crowd), and I see the kind of fiction kids are reading. I haven't read those Eregon books (written by a kid in Eastern WA) or the Twilight series (set in Port Angeles, WA land of my father's folk).  But I have read the entire Harry Potter saga and I say...this is the most popular fantasy series out there?  Wow.

Back when I was a kid I read a lot.  Steven King  and John Saul for horror and suspense; Piers Anthony, Robert Aspirin, and MZB for a lot of the rest.  I've grown out of the horror (though I did read the entire Dark Tower saga by King), and Anthony and Aspirin I've long since left behind (you start reading Moorcock and Anderson and you wonder why you ever start reading the REAL Howard and Lovecraft stuff and Moorcock and Anderson start paling in comparison).

But Bradley was and still is great. The Mists of Avalon (which I didn't read until my 20s) is a great book, as is The Fall of Atlantis.  The Darkover series shares a lot with McCaffery's Pern, though just as gritty (if not moreso).  Hell, I even read Warrior Woman, though it is pretty weak, especially compared to Marvel's Red Sonja comics.

But Lythande was pretty badass.  Bradley created this character for a short story in Robert Aspirin's Thieves World anthologies, though the character only appeared once or twice.  Bradley wrote several short stories for the character outside of Thieves World, and all (to my knowledge) are compiled in the character-titled book.

Lythande is a warrior-mage, one of the Order of the Blue Star.  All the mages of the Blue Star have a blue star tattooed on their foreheads, and have access to great magical power...with one condition.  Each mage possesses a single secret, individual to that particular mage, that if ever revealed and spoken aloud by another, causes the mage to lose all of his power.  It's an extreme taboo that once broken, no amount of atonement will repair.

Lythande's secret is that she's a woman...the only female member of the Order.  And because it's her secret, she is forced to hide her sex for fear of being stripped of all power and left vulnerable to her enemies.

Quite fun really. The mages of the Blue Star are not a cooperative fact, they actively seek to discover other members' secrets so that they can slay them with impunity.  As one might surmise, many of the stories involve Lythande having to complete some adventure where her secret is in danger of exposure.  Rest assured, she always comes through thanks to sword, spell, and wit.

And sometimes favorite story is one in which she is in direct confrontation with another member of her Order.  While involved in an actual physical duel (note her two swords in the illustration), the opponent's are bantering back and forth and she hurls the epithet "goat f---er" at her foe...and his momentary hesitation and loss of composure clues her in that she has inadvertently discovered his occult secret.  Lythande stops and deliberately states "you have sex with goats," whereupon he loses all his powers. She then runs him through in cold blood.


Anyway, not a bad thing to mix into any particular home-brewed D&D campaign.  I have an upcoming post where I discuss allowing mages to wield any weapons (just like a fighter) with no expense of "game balance." Lythande is yet another example of the warrior-mage (like Elric or Gandalf).


  1. You know, with that Lute on her back, doesn't she resemble a bard? Probably what drew me to the book in the first place...

  2. I know the cover art was one of the reasons I first picked it up. It's my favorite of her stuff, though I've not read as much as you have.

  3. The Order of the Blue Star is a very cool idea. Magic tied to a secret is always fun but difficult to do in game.

    Actually, the first few Thieves World books were full of interesting stuff to steal for games. But the later books I did not enjoy as much. Might have to track down the Lythande book though. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. I met Robert Asprin in 1988 at a bookstore signing. He looked like a wizard. Very dark and had gold rings on his fingers. Nice suit too.