This was a reread for me, since it’s been so long since I read it, and I want to get on and read the second and third book. (Although alas, I don’t know that the fourth book has progressed at all since I bought them.) It’s a refreshing world where, though people have a duty to provide an heir, sexuality isn’t tightly regulated and once you have provided a child, you can love whom you will — and polyamory is also an option. Despite that, it’s not idyllic: the characters don’t always accept their lovers’ choices, don’t always agree with their actions, do things to hurt one another, etc, etc. It’s not falsely optimistic: in fact, the way Herewiss and Lorn hurt each other is very real, and recognisable.
The fantasy elements are fun enough, if somewhat typical (though that might be partially familiarity with later fantasy). Herewiss has access to a power men can’t normally wield, and yet he can’t truly call it forth. Lorn is a king without a kingdom, exiled after usurpation. Segnbora is wandering with Bad Stuff in her past and an inability to use her abilities for other reasons. There’s a fire creature that might call to mind Calcifer at times for those of us who love Howl’s Moving Castle.
There’s all kinds of humanness amongst the fantasy elements, which is what makes good fantasy. I really enjoyed rereading this, because despite feeling typical in terms of the plot, it feels like a world with so much more potential than some other fantasy worlds I could name, because it allows for so much more — it isn’t bound by Christian morality or constrained by our history. It genuinely feels like a separate world with its own reality, and despite the fantasy elements, that’s partly because Herewiss and Lorn never have to worry about being hurt because they’re in love.