RIDDLE-MASTER is a solid effort, though on many occasions it feels too transparently like what it is, a setup-novel for the next two parts—which, my memory tells me, read much better.
I finally slogged my way through the middle book in McKillip's trilogy, and by my choice of words it should be apparent that I didn't get a sense that the "middle book" read better than the first part.
Where the first book left off by stranding protagonist Morgon in the midst of a moderately interesting supernatural mystery, the second proceeds to keep Morgon off stage for most of the story, focusing instead on his betrothed, a woman named Raederle. Raederle ('readerly," as in "reading riddles"?) is frequently mentioned in RIDDLE MASTER, but never appears "on stage." She spends most of the novel searching for Morgon and trying to learn more about the conspiracy in which he's become involved.
The most ennervating aspect of HEIR is that it communicates little beyond a sense of marking time. Raederle is potentially a good character, but her quest to find Morgon is dull, dull, dull, too often filling up time with long scenes of how the heroine and her allies get from one place to another. There are a few bright spots as Raederle attempts to come to terms with her burgeoning magical talents-- which she inherits from a race of wizardly shapechangers, more or less her opponents in the story. Occasionally McKillip's poetic talents blossom, but all too often, she goes for the easy simile or metaphor.
What hurts the travel-sequences most is that old writer's enemy: the Curse of Character Sound-Alike. I've struggled with this problem not a little myself. Still, I don't think most of McKillip's supporting characters were worked out to give them strong enough personalities. Thus even those characters with very different backgrounds from the heroine's fail to be distinct in any other way.
Since I probably read the trilogy round about the early 1980s, my negative reaction may show a change in my own tastes regarding writing styles and characterizations. Be that as it may, I almost don't want to reread the final book, despite my good memories of it. But I'll probably do so, if only to reach a sense of completion on this subject.