Image © Estate of Lloyd Alexander, illustration by Jacob Landau.
This is an early work of Alexander’s, the next thing published after the final book of his award-winning Prydain series. I’m not sure why I haven’t read it until now. Possibly the incredibly ugly original cover art (above) put me off, or even the subject: the adventures of a fiddler in a mythical Middle Ages Europe-like setting. In any case, it’s a fine book, though much lighter in tone than the Prydain series and other works. It has something of a “comedy of errors” feel at times, at others it’s an adventure story with Sebastian just one step ahead of various enemies, accompanied by a stray cat and a variety of fellow-travelers. Alexander was taking violin lessons, and says he was inspired by the young Mozart, though I think he was really inspired more by Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which shares some common ground with this book. Instead of a magic flute there’s a cursed violin that, when played well, seems to draw the life out of the player, vampirically. That’s the only fantasy element in this story, the rest is more like “The Three Musketeers” or books of that nature, but with less swordfighting.
Good fun, entertaining characters, some rather one-dimensional villains, and lots of scenery-chewing by a theatrical group Sebastian falls in with. Then there’s the mysterious Captain everyone is hoping will save them from a brutal ruler; he’s perhaps the most interesting character of all. There’s a princess, but for once Alexander does not give her his usual feisty young woman character personality (like Eilonwy in the Prydain books). This princess is stiff and stuffy, speaking in long-winded paragraphs in the third person. Not too appealing, though she finally comes out of it at the end.
There’s nothing too surprising here, but it’s an entertaining read. Recommended.