book review Stephen R. Donaldson Mordant's Need The Mirror of Her Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Mirror of Her Dreams is a low fantasy that chronicles the “translation” of the beautiful but insipid Terisa Morgan into the besieged realm of Mordant by way of “Imagery,” sorcery that brings things out of mirrors. In this case, a clumsy apprentice, Gerarden, enters a mirror in Mordant in hope of finding the “champion” that the mirror depicts. Instead, he finds himself in Teresa’s sterile New York penthouse and, thinking that she may instead be Mordant’s savior, persuades her to return with him. A maelstrom of court intrigue arises on Terisa’s appearance in Orison, the sprawling castle-capital of Mordant (reminiscent of the castle in Peake’s Gormenghast saga); and of course, someone (or multiple someones) desire the newcomer’s death. Meanwhile, the elderly king feigns silent senility (or does he?), armies march, and monsters summoned by Imagery assault the countryside. Can Terisa and Gerarden stay alive and help Mordant do the same?

Unfortunately, the first book of the duology suffers from a plodding pace and creates more questions than it answers. The 3-star rating reflects a general admiration for Stephen R. Donaldson’s imagination (as exemplified by the creation of Imagery and its central debate about the independent existence of things shown in mirrors) and his ability to describe people, places and action sequences in fine detail. (The king’s daughters and Master Eremis are particularly well depicted, as is Terisa’s eerie attraction to the latter. The opening description of her dream of riders in the snow is also wonderful.)

However, the rating also reflects the uneven depth of characterization and the general sense of frustration created by (to name a few things), Terisa’s persistent doubts about her own existence; King Joyce’s inactivity; the castellan’s Gestapo-like interviews; the inability of the greatest swordsman/assassin in an adjacent kingdom to kill Terisa in multiple attempts; and Gerarden’s clumsiness (which eventually becomes a weak plot device).

Uncertainty and frustration indeed seem to be the major themes of the novel; and as themes, they sometimes turn pages as the intrigue thickens, but they also make it difficult to actually like or identify with many characters, the bland Terisa in particular. (In fact, the only readily likeable character in the entire novel is Gerarden’s heroic brother Artagel, strictly a supporting role.)

In sum, The Mirror of Her Dreams exemplifies both the strengths and weakness of low fantasy. The realism created by the use of imperfect characters and complex, ambiguous situations can be engaging. However, too much imperfection and groping in the dark can result in the “translation” of the reader out of a keen and poignant realm of imagination and back into our own problematic world. Even in Part 1, some questions need to be answered.

Mordant’s Need — (1986-1987) Publisher: While the Alend army lays siege to Orison Castle, Terisa and Geraden strive to penetrate the secret maneuverings of a mad king and a senile wizard so that the evil threatening the land of Mordant can be named and defeated.

book review Stephen R. Donaldson Mordant's Need  The Mirror of Her Dreamsbook review Stephen R. Donaldson Mordant's Need  A Man Rides Through


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.