Title: The Iron Ring
Author: Lloyd Alexander
When Tamar, the young king of Sundari, loses a dice game, he loses everything ─ his kingdom, its riches, and even the right to call his life his own. His bondage is symbolized by the iron ring that appears mysteriously on his finger. To Tamar, born to the warrior caste, honor is everything. So he sets out on a journey to make good on his debt ─ and even to give up his life it necessary. And he enters into a world where animals talk, spirits abound, and magic is everywhere. . . .
I didn’t know what to expect from this one, other than an inkling that it might be good because the author is one of the greats (although perhaps lesser lauded than others). I was not disappointed. This was the first book in my new reading challenge, and kicked it off to a great start. All in all, it took me three days ─ and only because I bore a shred of common sense and went to bed before the moon did. It’s got a well-paced narrative and is a fairly quick read, engrossing and well laid out. The chapter ends are strategical to the point of manipulative, and one just can’t help reading ‘one more chapter’ ─ and we all know how that goes.
I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t too sure about the story, largely because the writing style follows a different pattern than I’m used to, but it reads like an old fairy tale, and I was soon caught up in the ceaseless adventure. It’s a delight. How all the characters and events are woven so intricately together is wonderful, with a setting reminiscent of ancient India that’s unique from the common European medieval era. The story deals largely with the individual’s ‘code of honor’, and their duty to fulfill that code. It also questions and tests Tamar’s courage, his motives, and even what honor means to him, challenging the difference between true and contrived honor, ignorant willfulness and common sense. It deals as well with the value and power of kindness and compassion, and the walls they break down between peoples and castes.
Every page, just about, is rife with humor as the characters banter back and forth. They’re full of wit (and sometimes a tad of sarcasm), but even so the story is replete with profound and thought-provoking ideas ─ proving that some of the deepest meanings are spoken in the simplest of terms.
I loved this story to pieces, and the characters to bits. Hashkat is the first monkey I can ever say I liked, and Mirri is one of the few strong female characters that don’t rub me the wrong way. She’s great. Garuda is . . . interesting, Rajaswami is a hoot, and Adi-Kavi is mysteriously knowledgeable, skilled, and all-round awesome. Nahusha is a villain worthy of spite and disgust.
I recommend this book very much, it’s a treasure.