Vintage Treasures: Book of the Isle by Nancy Springer
I have to admit that I was always confused by this series. For several decades, to be perfectly honest.
The problem was that I could never quite figure out what order the books were meant to be read in — or even how many there were. I never did sort it out it on my own… in my first draft of this article, I arranged them in the wrong order, and I was convinced I was missing a volume. (I wasn’t.) I eventually had to turn to ISFDB and Wikipedia to get a definitive answer.
Anyway, the end result was that I never read them, despite having the entire series on my shelves (filed in the wrong order) for over 30 years. I guess it’s true what they say: books are like pretty girls… if they make you feel awkward and stupid, you rarely ask them out.
I really don’t think it was entirely my fault that I was so confused. Sure, it wasn’t that hard to figure out that The White Hart was the first volume… it doesn’t mention any other books on the cover, so that’s usually a clue. Of course, the cover doesn’t tell you much of anything. It barely even has a blurb on the back, just this one sentence:
All the beauty and bravery of a world that transcends fantasy and leaps into legend!
I guess that was enough to sell a fantasy novel in 1979… Springer got the OK to pen four sequels, so something must have worked out. But man, seventies people sure didn’t ask much of their fantasy marketing.
Puzzling over the other four volumes (as I did this morning), you can sorta piece together that The Silver Sun is next. The big clue is the cover text:
The prophecy of The White Hart fulfilled!
Although, that sounds kinda final, so maybe it could be the last volume? Good thing the publisher also added The Second Book of Isle under the title, which would really help us out if we know for sure what that first book was. Once again, the back cover blurb is still just one sentence… albeit one that tells us something about the story this time:
With an unearthly wisdom his only weapon, young Hal and Alan his blood brother by a strange bond, embark on a quest to turn the tide of evil and fulfill a legendary destiny….
[Click on any of the pictures for bigger versions.]
Okay, let’s move on to the third one, which is obviously The Black Beast.
First The White Hart, then The Silver Sun, and now…
The Black Beast
Her Crowning Epic of Fantasy and Adventure
Seems straightforward enough? Except it’s not. This is actually the fourth book. The third one is The Sable Moon, although you’d never know that from the cover text:
As The Silver Sun sets on the Isle of Welas there arises a shining new omen of splendorous adventure…
Wait, what? I don’t want omens, I just want to know what frickin’ order these books go in. I have an article to write.
Finally we come to The Golden Swan, the final book in the series. But they don’t say that, because the marketing text was written like some kind of maddening logic puzzle. We’re not told what volume this is, just that it’s the sequel to two previous installments:
A sequel to The Books of Isle and The Black Beast. Now…
The Golden Swan
Her Crowning Epic of Fantasy and Adventure
I thought The Black Beast was “Her Crowning Epic of Fantasy and Adventure”? Wait a sec, is this just a re-titled version of The Black Beast?
No, they appear to be different. But I think I must be missing The Books of Isle. What volume is that, number two? Maybe that’s the one that lists what order these go in. Aaargh, this is frustrating. I think I’ll just re-read The Chronicle of Amber instead.
Well, I won’t submit you to this any further. The Books of Isle, as it turns out, is the collective title for the first three volumes, not a separate book. (For complete clarity, the entire five-volume series is known by a different name, Book of the Isle. You’re welcome.) As it happens, I wasn’t missing a title after all.
So here for your edification is the complete series, in the correct order. This was hard-won knowledge, you should treasure it.
The White Hart (1979)
The Silver Sun (1980)
The Sable Moon (1981)
The Black Beast (1982)
The Golden Swan (1983)
As I said, I didn’t puzzle this out on my own, How did the geniuses at ISFDB and Wikipedia figure out the order of these volumes? I’m not sure exactly, and to be honest, I think it’s just a theory they’re testing, like the Kinetic theory of Matter. It’s possible next week they’ll try listing them in a different order. Anything is possible.
All five volumes of Book of the Isle were published by Pocket Books. The covers for the first four volumes were by Carl Lundgren. The wraparound cover for the fifth book, The Golden Swan (see above), was by Rowena Morrill. They have been out of print since the mid-80s, but are all currently available in digital format.
We previously covered Nancy Springer with her 1996 novel Fair Peril.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.
I remember reading these when they came out! I don’t remember anything about them because it was such a long time ago. I do remember enjoying them, but I’m not sure I’d re-read them. Back then, I was desperate for fantasy and vacuumed it all up without any regard to quality. I was young and starved for fantasy.
Nowadays, I have little reading time, and there’s just so much new content to read.
I hadn’t thought about these books in years. Thanks for the nostalgia rush!
> I hadn’t thought about these books in years. Thanks for the nostalgia rush!
You’re most welcome. Nostalgia is our stock-in-trade for Vintage Treasures, after all.
Glad you enjoyed the books!
[…] In 1979, her first published novel, The White Hart, kicked off a successful five-volume series, The Book of the Isle. She followed it with more than 40 additional novels, including The Hex Witch of Seldom (1988), Not […]
Didn’t Springer write another series with similar covers in the mid-to-late 80s?
She wrote the Sea King trilogy in 1987-88 (Madbond, Mindbond and Godbond), with covers by Kevin Eugene Johnson and Tom Kidd, and very similar cover design. Here’s the cover to Madbond:
Is that the series you were thinking of?
I love this series. Part of Hartwell’s Timescape line, of which I adore.
I pimp this one to folks who read Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogi retelling.
Although, for more groundbreaking Springer work, try Larque on the Wing.
Thanks for the rec, Arin! And I will.
Great to have you back with us. Hope you’re feeling better?
Thanks John. Yes, almost back to normal.
Even more confusing, is Silver Sun is listed as Silver Gun on the back of Sable moon! Good luck finding that one. ☺
Ha! I wonder if there’s some frustrated collector out there, still looking for a copy….