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Vintage Treasures: Sorcerer’s Son by Phyllis Eisenstein

Monday, April 25th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Sorcerer's Son Phyllis Eisenstein-small Sorcerer's Son Phyllis Eisenstein-back-small

I ran into my friend Phyllis Eisenstein at the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show here in Chicago over the weekend, and the first thing she said to me was, “I’m retired!”

This is exciting news. Phyllis has been nurturing several writing projects for the past few years, and I’ve been impatiently waiting for them — and it’s great to hear that she’ll finally have more time to devote to them. Though I forgot to ask if it means we’ll finally get the long-promised third volume in her Book of Elementals fantasy series, which began with Sorcerer’s Son in 1979, and continued with The Crystal Palace (1988). The third volume, The City in Stone, was actually completed a decade ago, but was left without a publisher after the sudden collapse of Meisha Merlin in 2007. The first two volumes are now long out of print.

Phyllis’ other novels include Shadow of Earth (1979), In the Hands of Glory (1981), and the Tales of Alaric the Minstrel (two novels, Born to Exile (1978) and In the Red Lord’s Reach (1989), plus various short stories). Her work has been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, but these days of course she’s most famous for being the person who convinced George R.R. Martin to put dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire.

A Storm of Swords was dedicated to Phyllis Eisenstein

A Storm of Swords was dedicated to Phyllis Eisenstein

Phyllis was a beta reader for each of the novels in the series in draft. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, George answered a question on how his books were a reimagination of the Wars of the Roses with fantasy elements this way:

I did consider at a very early stage – going all the way back to 1991 – whether to include overt fantasy elements, and at one point thought of writing a Wars of the Roses novel. But the problem with straight historical fiction is you know what’s going to happen. If you know anything about the Wars of the Roses, you know that the princes in the tower aren’t going to escape. I wanted to make it more unexpected, bring in some more twists and turns. The main question was the dragons: Do I include dragons? I knew I wanted to have the Targaryens have their symbol be the dragons; the Lannisters have the lions, the Starks have the wolves. Should these things be literal here? Should the Targaryens actually have dragons? I was discussing this with a friend, writer Phyllis Eisenstein – I dedicated the third book to her – and she said, “George, it’s a fantasy – you’ve got to put in the dragons.” She convinced me, and it was the right decision. Now that I’m deep into it, I can’t imagine the book without the dragons.

Check your copy of A Storm of Swords to see George’s dedication to Phyllis.

Sorcerer’s Son was published by Del Rey / Ballantine in April 1979. It is 387 pages, priced at $1.95. The cover is by Darrell K. Sweet.

It was reprinted by Signet / New American Library in February 1989, with a new cover by Richard Hescox, and in the UK by Grafton (1990). It was reprinted again in an omnibus edition with The Crystal Palace by Meisha Merlin, under the title The Book of Elementals, Vol. 1 and 2, in 2003. There is no digital edition, and it is currently out of print. I bought the copy above on eBay last week for around 30 cents.

See all of our Vintage Treasures here.


  1. I read this a few years ago and liked it quite a lot. It had shaded characters who did unexpected things, and I appreciated the unhurried pace; there was no straining to drum up unearned excitement. My only quibble is the Darrell Sweet cover. Not one of his best, I don’t think.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - April 25, 2016 5:18 pm

  2. I really enjoyed SORCEROR’S SON, and the Alaric stories, and IN THE HANDS OF GLORY. Her greatest story, however is the novella “In the Western Tradition”, one of the great Time Travel (indeed, Time Viewer) stories in SF.

    Comment by Rich Horton - April 25, 2016 6:29 pm

  3. Thomas,

    Funny you should say that about Sweet. He was an enormously talented guy, but he painted the covers of SO many midlist SF and fantasy novels in the 70s and 80s that they all start to blur together, even for me.

    I think publishers overused Richard Powers to the same extent a decade earlier, to the point where seeing a Powers cover automatically equated to “generic science fiction,” and you didn’t even see the art any more.

    The same thing happened with Darrell Sweet, at least for me. Late in his career, I pretty much mentally equated Sweet with generic midlist fantasy, and my eyes just slid right past it.

    Comment by John ONeill - April 26, 2016 9:19 am

  4. Rich,

    Thanks for the rec! I’m not familiar with that novella at all… I’ll have to track it down!

    Comment by John ONeill - April 26, 2016 9:21 am

  5. This book sounds like tons of fun.

    Comment by Zeta Moore - April 29, 2016 11:17 pm

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