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Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton: three thumbs up!

Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton: three thumbs up! published on 1 Comment on Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton: three thumbs up!

A set of magically empowered and noble triplets are kidnapped and dumped in a hostile wilderness full of weird animals and unknown threats. They must use their wits and their magic to find their way back home. Things are complicated along the way by the appearance of a young man who may or may not be a missing prince. He helps out the triplets and embroils them in a plot against the crown, which makes their return home all the more urgent so they can warn the royal family.

Though Three Hands for Scorpio was apparently Norton’s last published work before she expired at 93 and therefore not up to par with the works of her golden age, I still found much to enjoy in it.

It’s a straightforward adventure story, and that’s one of its greatest strengths. Women and men are equal at ass-kicking — indeed, one sign of the plot against the throne is that priests gaining power want to repress women — but Norton does not get hung up on this point. Neither is there any romance between the triplets and the maybe-prince. Neither is there any bitchy infighting among the triplets, who share a form of mind-reading that’s rather endearing, or between the triplets and their parents. As a matter of fact, the triplets, their mom and their dad present a rare picture of a functional fictional family where all members love each other. But that’s not the main point of the story. Basically, it’s just a race to discover the mysteries of the wilderness and get home. Norton’s use of female protagonists in a story where many authors would default to male ones thus strikes me as a subtle and very welcome feminist decision.

Beyond its general awesomeness as a feminist statement, Three Hands also works exceptionally well as a suspenseful adventure mystery. Who kidnapped the triplets? What monsters will they meet in the wilderness? Is the maybe-prince friend or foe? Who’s gunning for the crown, and why? Norton drives the story with all these questions with a nimbly paced plot that bristles with gods, powers and borders, leaving you to work out the connections as you read. It’s not complicated, but it is tightly woven, so the archaic style [consistent and convincing, thank you very much] may impede you. However, just ride along on Norton’s inventiveness as she lets the triplets explore a world where spiders are the size of dogs and wildcats talk through ESP. Her endlessly creativity lets you experience the triplets’ wonder as they discover the wilderness.

Of course, Three Hands has its weaknesses. Its major flaw is that the triplets are undifferentiated. Even though they take turns narrating, they don’t sound like separate characters. They don’t really act differently from each other either; they’re all smart and quick-witted and resourceful and magically gifted. This flaw could have been righted simply by making the protagonists twins and developing them in the lazy manner that many authors use to differentiate pairs: giving them opposite major traits. I personally accepted the similarity of the triplets very easily because my sister and I did a series of stories about twins who talked in the first-person plural all the time. Others of you may not be so lenient.

In summary, Three Hands is a clever story that combines a simple, linear quest with a mystery. Refreshingly swift and condensed in plotting, it features easily likeable [but undifferentiated] heroines and blessed freedom from sexism and other stupid stereotypes.

If most fantasies are bloated, three-layer burgers, flaccid with toppings and useless surprises, Three Hands is a compact, tasty, satisfying slider.

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