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The Shadow Warrior    

by Pat Zettner

Publisher: Atheneum Books; 1st ed edition (May, 1990)
Language: English; ISBN: 0689314868
Jacket illustration c1990 Stephen Marchesi
Size: 8 x 6 x 0.8 inches; 220 pages
Dust Jacket art by Stephen Marchesi © 1990

A book that deserves reviving! Memorable, original, compelling!

For years Solgants have called an enemy race “goblins” — a people who come by night and raid Solgant settlements and villages. But the word "goblin" turns out to be a myth. There are no “goblins.” There are only Solgants and Danturi. That is one of the points of the book. Another: Bridging the barrier of a hatred so old that no one ever has done so. Until now.

Fleeing her castle’s downfall, searching for her brother and his army, befriended by Angborn the Eodan (whom her people call “giant”), a young Solgant girl named Llyndreth sees for the first time one of her people’s age-old foes. He is a wounded, unconscious, half-dead “goblin” whom, strangely, she cannot find it in her heart to hate — though, by race, he looks as different to her and she does to him. Things haven’t been what they seemed to this point: There were no giants, only Angborn who can change his height, having what Solgants call "magical abilities" because he has powers they don't possess.

So she convinces Angborn to aid her in helping the wounded “goblin.” They dress his hurt which brings him to consciousness, and though he shows hostility Llyndreth asks if he wants water. He looks at her blankly. Then, at Angborn’s suggestion, she tries the Common Speech, a language used by peasants but no longer by Solgant Lords, a language so old it belongs to no one...or perhaps everyone.

Recalling words from her childhood Llyndreth bridges the first barrier between them. His reply is proud, scornful, though he is near dying of thirst:

“I, Zorn, am Captain among Shadow Warriors. I have asked no help of the Sun-spawned. Let you keep your water.”

But he, in turn, has seen the hurt in her eyes and has no doubt that she means kindly toward him, and, "almost, he could accept kindness at her hands."

As Angborn with his own reason for hating “goblins,” goads Zorn, Llyndreth learns that Zorn is a Danturin and that the Danturi are the Shadow People, forced because of long-ago treachery to live in the dark halls of the mountain, living during night, sleeping during day. But they once roamed free and proud before the Solgants came and, at that time, the light did not hurt their eyes. They had been ruled by the mighty prince Dantur (whose self-wrought armband was such a great thing of power that it was coveted by one of the powerful “Old Ones” who lived first in the land). Llyndreth hears Zorn’s "bitter, hopeless defense of his people," sees him conquer his need for food and water, and knows that her own brother Rothwyn would praise such honor. “And honor was the last thing she had been led to except of a goblin.”

Zorn makes a valiant attempt to escape, leaving the sleeping girl and Eodan in peace. They find him almost immediately, in worse shape than before, and he is forced to lie quiet while Llyndreth tends to his needs and Angborn sees to his wound. He is too weak and too ill to care where his duty as a Danturin warrior lay, and by the time he is well enough, his fellow-warriors or “spear brothers” are near. He is brought up against the toughest of choices: Will he do his duty, in honor-bound to hand Llyndreth and Angborn over to his spear brothers? Or will he risk betraying his warrior's oath to aid the two outsiders — one considered, by race, an enemy of his people — to reach the Solgant camp in safety? Rapidly weighing these irreconcilable options and their likely consequences, he finds he knows one thing only: that he cannot let the girl be taken captive. He owes her his life. It is a debt. And the Danturi keep their debts.

Thus begins the journey of these three unlikely companions (along with Llyndreth’s pony) as Zorn leads the others safely toward Llyndreth's brother's camp. Along the way respect and friendship spring up among them through various circumstances. But because of his choice Zorn ends up outcast from his spear brothers and from his people. Alone when Llyndreth first met him, alone when she sees Zorn again, Llyndreth herself sets her own course by making similar realizations and tough choices.

Overcoming fears, prejudice, barriers, both she and Zorn, as well as the unwilling Angborn and even Rothwyn, become part of the waking of a magic older and more powerful even than that of the priest-kind who keep Zorn’s people, his spear brothers, even King Murgg, bound in fear. The strongest power, however, is that of these representatives of the three races joined as one; of the bond between Llyndreth and Zorn; and of the bond between Zorn and the king's heir Gryth — Zorn’s best friend whom he had betrayed to save Llyndreth and who calls him again “spear brother.”

The Shadow Warrior is a truly great book, one that sets up in mind of readers the importance and impact of the choices they make. It is a story the reader "lives through" and is "changed through." And this not only during the first reading, but with every reread, the reader "re-lives" seeing out of the characters' eyes; he or she re-lives their experiences as they change and grow.
Pat Zettner’s consistency and choice of words is simple, compelling, memorable, masterfully done. Personally, I pick the book up just to hear again the language:
“Let you not go through.”
“At peace, are we? That’s well.”
“Wait a moment while I clothe me warmly.”
“Think you...?”
”My mind has turned.”
“Bide safe, friend.”
“Spear brothers.”
“Shadow Warriors.”
“Hearth brothers.”
“Grief is a steed that must travel its own pace.”
And to hear again Zorn’s laughter on the dark mountainside when Llyndreth reveals her aversion, not to “goblins,” but to bats. In that moment, I as reader feel “young and carefree” once more.

Pat Zettner’s exquisite use of blindness, in day or in dark, and the perspective-switch that happens within the reader; the meaning of “blind;” the setting side-by-side Llyndreth’s being led, blind, through the darkness of a mountain tunnel by Zorn, who by race sees in the dark; Zorn’s seeing ahead of him only “a bright-blind emptiness of days” alone if Llyndreth were taken captive by the Danturi to live blind amid scorn in their dark halls in the depths of the mountain. I love it when the two stand in the Cave of Fire and Llyndreth sees, by the flash of green light, gemstones glittering in cave walls, fulfilling Zorn’s unspoken wish when he helped her climb to the blooming thornbush, that she would see such things and and love them as he did. And when Llyndreth glories in storms, Zorn’s reaction makes me smile.

In essence, The Shadow Warrior is a story "of a character/characters caught between hard choices."* Perhaps for that very reason, and due to the decisions Zorn and the others make as they are faced with each hard choice along the way, The Shadow Warrior is also a story of hope, of the worth of "the crack in the wall," and of "the flaw in the stone." Beautifully written, The Shadow Warrior does what all great books do: it changes you.

—D.G. Jones © 2005-2013

Note to teachers: There are enough used copies available. Make this book part of your curriculum.

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* Pat Zettner, correspondence, 23 March 2006.

About Pat Zettner

"PAT ZETTNER grew up in the Gulf Coast town of Bay City, Texas. A 1961 graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, she completed her M.A. and doctoral course work at Duke University (1963). She married while on the English faculty at Southern Methodist University and afterward chose to stay home to raise a family. When her son and daughter were small, she began to write. Her stories appeared in Seventeen and Young Miss , but — with Zorn’s story beginning to haunt her — she abandoned short fiction to work on a novel.
"Since childhood, Mrs. Zettner has been drawn to fantasy and folklore — 'from fairy tales, Greek myths, and the English and Scottish ballads to the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin.' The Shadow Warrior reflects this lifelong love.
"Mrs. Zettner sometimes teaches as San Antonio College. She sometimes travels. 'Travel fills the same needs that spur me to make us stories — to see exciting new places, to meet and understand new people.' "
Source: dust jacket flap. 1990 edition by Atheneum. Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022


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