Illustration © Dan Craig
This book came out in 1982, and is an excellent read. An orphan girl named Harry Crewe has come from a very civilized land that suggests Victorian England to live with her aunt and military-man uncle in a border outpost that suggests Pakistan. It’s a fantasy, and there are definitely elements to the story and characters that go well beyond the implied British Empire setting. The land is the desert country of Damar near mysterious mountains that remain unconquered and the home of the Free Hillfolk. Beyond the mountains are The Northerners, an enemy empire that wants to beat back the “British” army and citizens now occupying Damar.
When the king of the Free Hillfolk, Corlath, comes to parley with Harry’s Uncle Charles, commander of the small garrison where they live, he finds no common ground, but Harry catches his eye, and vice versa. That night, Corlath and his men kidnap Harry and carry her off to their mountain village, where she begins a new life. At first, Harry is frightened and angry, but she soon comes to realize this new life is exactly what she has been longing for. In time she becomes a warrior woman of great prowess herself, and even finds she has magic within her that she never suspected. That magic is revered by the Hillfolk, and also in Corlath — he recognized it in Harry from the start.
The Northerners are gathering for an invasion of Damar, one that will take them through the mountains of the Hillfolk. While few in numbers, Corlath and his people are determined to oppose them, even if it means their own destruction. Harry has plans of her own to help in that battle, and perhaps even recruit her uncle’s forces as well.
This book is not only well written, it feels fresh because of the unique language, characters and mythology developed for it by the author. It’s not a Tolkien clone, if anything it’s more reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” which was written 14 years later.