Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Centaur Aisle

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Centaur Aisle (1982)
It is 4 years after the events of “Castle Roogna”. Dor is now 16. Since Dor is heir to the throne, and to give him practice being King, King Trent appoints him as temporary King for a week, while King Trent and Queen Iris go to Mundania on a trade mission.  But they don’t return at the expected time.  Dor consults with his grandfather Roland, who is a member of the Council of Elders, but Roland insists that Dor continue in the role until Trent returns.  Dor gathers his friends to assist him: Princess Irene, Grundy the golem, Smash the ogre and Chet the centaur.  (Grundy is actually no longer a golem, that is, an inanimate object brought to life, but had been changed into a living being at the end of “The Source of Magic”. But everyone still refers to him as a golem. And he still remains tiny.)

But another week passes without the King and Queen’s return.  Dor goes to consult Good Magician Humfrey.  Humfrey tells him he must go to Centaur Isle, off the southern tip of the Xanth mainland, to find a new Magician who has suddenly appeared.

While at the Good Magician’s Castle, Dor is obliged to officiate at Humfrey’s marriage to the Gorgon. (This is the same gorgon Bink and his companions encountered in “The Source of Magic”. Humfrey had nullified the gorgon’s stare by making her face invisible.)

The Zombie Master and his wife Millie are also living at the Castle, and they have 3-year-old twins, a boy called Hiatus and a girl called Lacuna. The Good Magician’s Castle had been the Zombie Master’s Castle 800 years ago, as told in the story, “Castle Roogna”. (How the Zombie Master, of 800 years ago, is alive in the present is explained towards the end of “Castle Roogna” – however I haven’t included this in my review of that book.) It is arranged that the Zombie Master will act as King in Dor’s absence.

Dor takes his friends Irene, Grundy, Smash and Chet on his mission.  They travel by boat and then through the islands off the western coast, encountering various hazards on the way.  To escape a sea monster, they use a magical salve to climb up a column of smoke and then travel on the clouds.  But then a group of wyverns attack them, and Chet is bitten.  As the magic of the salve fades they find themselves lowered into the sea, but are rescued by the centaurs of Centaur Isle.

On Centaur Isle, they discover that the unknown Magician is a centaur called Arnolde the archivist, who has a small region of magic around him – the Centaur Aisle – but this is only noticeable when beyond the magical boundary of Xanth.  If he travels with them to Mundania, this will enable them to use their magic talents in Mundania, where magic normally does not operate.  Arnolde had not previously known he had a magic talent.  However magic is considered obscene by centaurs, and Arnold is obliged to resign from his job and accept exile from the Isle.

So Dor and his friends, plus Arnolde, set out for Mundania to the north of Xanth, to try to locate the King and Queen. (Chet is still recovering, so can’t come with them.) Dor uses his talent, of communicating with inanimate objects, to question the rocks and ground on whether they have seen the King and Queen pass by, but with no result.  With Arnolde’s knowledge they figure out that the connection between Xanth and Mundania keeps changing, to different points in Mundanian history and geography – generally at peninsulas.

They continue on into Mundania – this region turns out to be modern America – and go to a library for research. They are assisted by an archivist called Ichabod.  From clues that Trent had given Dor, they figure out that the King and Queen had gone to the Kingdom of Onesti, in medieval Europe, in 650 AD.

The sea at the boundary of Xanth and Mundania changes colour every time a new connection is made.  By questioning the ground, they eventually find the connection which leads them to the correct time and location.

They travel by boat up the river until they reach Castle Onesti, and meet King Oary of Onesti.  But Oary drugs their wine and then imprisons them.  While in prison, Dor and Irene confess their love for each other.

Then they learn that Oary is an impostor; he has imprisoned the true King Omen, and Trent and Iris, at another castle, Castle Ocna.  Arnolde has been imprisoned separately from the others, so they can’t use their magic.  How can they escape, and rescue Trent, Iris and Omen?

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