The Prince of Morning Bells
by Nancy Kress
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
231 pages; ISBN: 0967178320
Rating: 8/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
A reprint of Kress’ twenty-year-old first novel, this is the story of Princess Kirila of Castle Kiril. In a land that’s perpetually at peace, Kirila tries her hand at the usual things a Princess does, like hunting and creating a tapestry. After her eighteenth birthday, she gets increasingly moody and short-tempered, taking it out on the castle staff. One day, she decides to go on a solo Quest to find the True Heart of the World. All she knows is that it is somewhere to the north, and it has to do with the Tents of Omnium.
Kirila soon comes upon a talking dog, with blue-black fur, named Chessie. He says he was a human prince who was turned into a dog by a wizard. Chessie is also going to the Tents of Omnium, the only place to get unenchanted. They spend some time at the Quirkian Hold, something like a monastery, whose purpose is to make order of all things in the universe. Their four clans are Up, Down, Strange and Charmed. Some feel that is enough to explain everything, while others feel that the Model of Forces may need some revision by adding another clan.
Later, they meet Prince Larek of Castle Talatour. He is handsome, single and totally obsessed with jousting. The castle is the smallest, most poorly maintained castle Kirila has ever seen. Nevertheless, she accepts Larek’s marriage proposal. Chessie continues his Quest to the Tents of Omnium.
Twenty-five years later, after Kirila has borne a couple of children, buried Larek, who lost a battle with a wild boar, and started to experience middle age and arthritis, Chessie returns. He got almost to Omnium, but was stopped by a sort of magical force field. On the spur of the moment, Kirila decides to continue the Quest. After several adventures, they reach the Tents of Omnium, where Chessie returns to human form.
This novel is really good. It starts off with some tongue-in-cheek humor, then gets a lot better. Here is a first-rate combination of psychology and fable that is quite entertaining.