In Xanth, everyone has a talent. But that doesn't mean everyone loves his talent, and no one understands that better than Hapless. Endowed with the ability to conjure any instrument he wants, Hapless could be an extraordinary musician if only he could play a tune that didn't fall ear-piercingly flat. His one desire is to find an instrument he can play. When the Good Magician hears about Hapless's desperate desire, he sends the young man on a quest to find the elusive Isis Orb, a magical talisman that could fulfill his wish. Setting out to achieve the impossible, Hapless meets an eclectic mix of creatures that join him on his journey, all with wishes they hope the Isis Orb will grant.
About the Author
Piers Anthony has written dozens of bestselling science fiction and fantasy novels. Perhaps best known for his long-running Magic of Xanth series, many of which are New York Times bestsellers, he has also had great success with the Incarnations of Immortality series and the Cluster series, as well as Bio of a Space Tyrant and others. Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.
Brett Barry has narrated more than 100 books, many of those from his home studio in New York's Catskill Mountains. He has also voiced many commercials, promos and documentaries, and he's the host of public radio's Sound Beat. He once narrated 30 books in 13 weeks while enrolled full-time in Syracuse University's graduate school. This is not a recommended combination.
Read an Excerpt
A Xanth Novel
By Piers Anthony
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2016 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved.
Hapless paced restlessly across his dingy excuse for a home. He wanted something, but he couldn't figure out what it was. Until he did figure it out, his life was in limbo; he couldn't go anywhere or make any key decision. He had never been any great shakes as a person, but now that he was living on his own he realized just how empty his existence was. Yet he couldn't think of what to do about it. So he remained a faded gray — eyed, dirt brown — haired, dull average excuse for nothing much.
He had considered doing what others did, and going to see the Good Magician Humfrey with a Question. But when he reconsidered it, he realized that it was probably not a good idea; he was no hero to participate in some grand design. If he even made it into the GM's castle, Humfrey would probably laugh him right back out of it. So squelch that.
There was a knock on the battered door. That made him jump; nobody ever came to call on him. It must be a lost traveler seeking directions from whoever happened to be close enough to ask. Him.
He pulled the door open with an unpleasant squeak. There stood a gnome in a crumpled suit. "Hapless," he said. "Invite me in."
How did this stranger know his name? "Uh, sure, I guess. Come in."
The gnome entered, then sat on the least rickety chair. "Hapless, I don't have time to waste, so listen carefully. I am the Good Magician Humfrey, and I have come to persuade you to come to my castle for an Answer."
Hapless answered with the grace for which he was known. "Huh?"
"Don't make me repeat myself; that wastes time. All you need to do is agree."
Hapless finally got a bit of ground under his emotional feet. "I don't want to do that! The Good Magician requires a year's service for a perplexing Answer."
"Or an equivalent Service of another nature," Humfrey agreed. "My Answer is always cryptic but worthwhile."
"This is ridiculous!" Hapless sputtered. "It's a trite formula! Some oaf comes with a stupid Question, gets a stupider Answer, then has to serve some complicated quest that completely messes up his life. Why should I get into anything like that? My life is already frustrating enough."
"Because formulas exist for an excellent reason: they work. You have no life to speak of; only by following this formula will you achieve your three life ambitions."
"What ambitions? I have no idea what I want."
"That is part of your problem. You want to play a musical instrument well, to have a good girlfriend, and to make a difference in Xanth. You will achieve all three only by taking a Quest."
Hapless opened his mouth to protest, then stalled. Because the moment the Good Magician spelled out what he wanted, he saw that it was true. It wasn't magic to make him desire things he hadn't before; it was a clarification of desires he had always had but had never been able to recognize. Humfrey had his number.
Still, he protested. "My talent is to conjure any musical instrument. But it's no good, because I can't play any instrument. No girl is interested in me because I don't have a useful talent. And as for making a difference, I have no idea how."
"Precisely. Your Quest will gradually clarify those aspects, so that by the time it concludes you will have succeeded in accomplishing all three." Humfrey stood. "I must be on my way. Your appointment at my castle is three days hence. Be there."
"I'll do no such thing!" Hapless said, working up a somewhat ineffective annoyance. "Why should I take your word about any of this nonsense?"
Humfrey rolled his eyes expressively, as if dealing with an idiot. "Because I anticipated your visit, and set up for it, making you the focus. When you foolishly changed your mind, all that work was in danger of being wasted. Five innocent folk will have their lives ruined, or at least never properly developed, a mean goddess will prevail, and two nice girls and a nasty one will remain unattached. Several of them are bound to come to me with Questions, which will then make their problems become my problems to solve. That will be a pain in the butt. I need to circumvent it. You yourself are largely worthless, but the others have marvelous lives to fulfill, and it's unfair to them to be so whimsically balked. So I am taking a hand for the greater good, not to mention my personal convenience, which means enlisting you, undeserving as you are."
Now this was interesting, not least because of the three girls. Two nice ones and a nasty one? That last had a certain guilty appeal. Nice girls weren't interested in him, but maybe a nasty one would be. He should be so lucky! "You — you think I could do all that? Just by taking the Quest?"
Humfrey hardly paused to consider. "I don't think, I know. However there is a qualification: you could do it, but whether you will remains in question. The future is never guaranteed. You will simply have to take your chances."
"I — I don't know. I don't much like taking chances."
Again the eye roll. "That's been your problem throughout. You don't want to take a chance on completely fulfilling your life and enabling several others to fulfill theirs? Knowing that the alternative is to settle into a lifelong slump of nonentity? You're boxing yourself in. You have to learn to think outside the box."
"Box? What box? I don't see any box."
"That's figurative, not literal, you numbskull."
"I have to figure outside a box? I still don't know what box."
The Good Magician looked at him as if about ready to tear out a handful of hair, and he didn't have much to spare. Then he changed his mind. "This box," Humfrey said impatiently, producing a small, closed, dull-gray box. "Think outside it, because what's in it isn't what you want."
"It isn't? Why?"
"Because that's its magic: to contain always the wrong thing." He thrust the box at Hapless.
Hapless took it. What could he do? If he turned this down he might never meet the nasty girl.
Humfrey walked to the door. "Be there," he repeated, and exited.
Hapless stood there, staring at the box. It stared back at him, in its fashion. It contained the wrong thing? Hapless didn't even know what the right thing was.
He got a dull idea. He could check inside the box, and whatever was in it would be wrong, and that might give him a clue what would be right.
He unfastened the closure and lifted the lid. Inside was a small picture of a rather pretty girl. She had flaring reddish hair, a cute nose, and a kissable mouth. "Who are you?" Hapless asked rhetorically.
"I'm Cylla Cybin, dummy," the picture answered.
Hapless was so surprised he almost dropped the box.
"Hey! Don't drop me, butterfingers!" the picture snapped.
"Uh, sorry. It's just that I expected something repulsive, like a dirty sock, not a pretty girl picture that talks."
"Pretty girl," Cylla repeated, mellowing. "Do you really think so?"
"Well, sure, but that doesn't matter."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because what's in this box is wrong for me, so even if you were real, it wouldn't be good. The picture must be warning me to stay clear of you."
"Oh really," she said, as if considering potential ramifications.
"It's nothing personal. I'd love to have a girlfriend like you. But you're wrong, so that's that."
"And you're going to be governed by a stupid box?"
"Well, the Good Magician gave it to me, and told me —"
"The Good Magician! You saw him?"
"I guess, in a manner. He told me to go to his castle and take a Quest. And to think outside the box."
"I'm going with you."
"You're hard of hearing?"
"But — but you're just a picture!"
Cylla frowned. "I am not just a picture. I'm a real girl whose picture somehow got inside your stupid box. That's not at all the same. I want to go see the Good Magician, but I don't want to travel alone, so I'll go with you."
"You want me to take your picture to the Good Magician?"
The picture's expression seemed to echo that of Humfrey, when he had to explain something obvious, to a dullard. "I don't care about the picture," she said carefully. "I'm talking about the real me. Take. Me. To. The Good Magician's Castle."
"But I don't even know where you are."
"You're in the village? Start walking north to the enchanted path. I'll meet you there."
What could he do? She was far more certain about things than he was. "Okay. Uh, when?"
"Now," she said firmly. "Get moving. We don't want to be caught out in the open when night falls."
How had he gotten into this? Hiking to the Good Magician with the wrong girl? But it seemed he had his marching orders. He grabbed his knapsack and popped the box into it, then stepped out of the house. He turned north and started walking.
As he came to the edge of the village, where the enchanted path began, there was a woman waiting. He knew it was Cylla, because the figure was just as shapely as the face was pretty. "About time," she said as he caught up to her. She fell in beside him, walking. "What's your name?"
"It fits you."
For some reason this assessment did not thrill him. "I really don't think — I mean the box was telling me no."
"Let me see that box."
He fished in his pack and brought it out. Cylla took it, opened it, and peered inside. "Oh, that's wrong, all right."
"The lipstick." She brought it out. It seemed the picture had been replaced to fit a new situation. "Totally wrong."
"Oh, you have lived a sheltered life, haven't you! It's color a girl puts on her mouth to make it more attractive."
"Oh. What's wrong with this?"
She grimaced. "I'll show you." She returned the box to him, then paused to rub the end of the stick across her mouth. When she dropped her hand away her lips looked like literal sticks. "How'd you like to kiss that?" The notion was repelling. "You're right," Hapless agreed. "It's wrong. I'd hate to kiss that."
Cylla brought out a hankie and vigorously rubbed her mouth off. Her normal lips returned. She put her face close to his. "How about these?"
"Let me make sure." Suddenly she was kissing him.
Caught again by surprise, all he could do was float on the moment. No girl had ever kissed him like that before. In fact, no girl had kissed him at all. She certainly knew how to do it.
She ended the kiss. "Was that all right?"
His head was still spinning. "Uh —"
"I mean, there was no wood remaining? No taste of bark?"
Oh. "None at all," he agreed. "You're perfect."
"Good." She turned him loose and they resumed walking.
He remained unsettled. The kiss had been really nice, and she seemed good enough. So why had her picture warned him away? "Uh, the box, your picture — if it's right about what's wrong —"
"I'm wondering about that too. Obviously it feels we're not right for each other. It must know something we don't."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"But that's a romantic thing. It doesn't mean we can't travel together."
"I guess," he agreed with a tinge of regret.
"I heard that tinge. That's sweet."
"Uh, thanks, I guess."
"So let's figure this out. Maybe our talents don't mesh. What's yours?"
"I can conjure any musical instrument. But I can't play any of them. It's frustrating."
"What would you like?"
Hapless focused and conjured a flute. It appeared in his hand. He gave it to her. She played it, and a beautiful melody sounded.
She paused. "That's the best I ever played! It's a fine instrument."
"Not for me."
"You play it." She handed it back to him.
Hapless put it to his mouth and blew. A sour squawk emerged, reminiscent of a noise that made stained glass break into colored fragments and tumble into a garbage pit.
"Stop! You made your point. May I keep the flute?"
"Sure. But it will fade out after a day or so. They don't last."
"Still, it's a good talent. You could conjure another when the first faded."
"Yes. But it doesn't do me any good. I guess that's why I'm going to see the Good Magician. Maybe he has an Answer."
"If you could play as well as you conjure, you'd be a worthwhile man."
"But as it is, I'm not."
"Very well," she said briskly. "My turn. My talent is to make others hallucinate. That's probably why your box warned you against me."
"Hallucinate? I don't think I've been doing that. Except maybe when you kissed me."
"No, that was normal euphoria. Boys do that when girls smooch them, just as they freak out when they see girls' panties. It's general minor magic.
Here's what it's like when I try." She took his hand.
He found himself standing in a forest of tree trunks with big wooden faces. "Get out of here, intruder!" one cried windily.
He tried to oblige, turning about. But behind him was a hungry-looking red dragon. He barely jumped back in time to avoid its snapping jaws. But then a tree branch caught him and hauled him in. It was a tangle tree!
"Ghaaa!" he cried as the vision ended.
"That's why my dates don't usually work out well," Cylla said. They were back in the real world. "It is obvious that I control the relationship, and they don't like that. So with you I was careful not to show it, until now, as a demonstration."
"I appreciate that," he said somewhat breathlessly. "But as long as you keep it under control, what's the problem?"
"You don't feel the need to dominate a woman?"
"I don't. It should be an equal partnership."
"I certainly agree, even if my other boyfriends didn't. Then there must be some other reason for the warning."
"There must be," he agreed, almost disappointed.
"I heard that tinge again. You're nice."
"Maybe the warning was wrong?" he suggested, this time with a tinge of hope that he knew she picked up on.
"I doubt it. But maybe we can find out tonight, when we camp."
He wasn't sure what she was hinting, but it strongly appealed. Still, he was uncertain, because of the box's warning against her. "Um, do you want to try the box again?"
She considered briefly. "Why not? So far it seems to have one wrong thing and one right thing."
He handed it to her, and she opened it and peered inside. "Well, now!" "What is it?"
"A panty." She lifted it out: a limp pink cloth.
"But I'm not freaking out."
"Silly, you don't freak from an empty panty. It has to be fully displayed to be effective."
Oh. "That's wrong for you?"
"Of course not. Panties are a girl's best friend."
"Then why is it in there?"
"I'm sure I don't know. Maybe the box is addled. Here, I'll try it on. Mine are getting worn anyway, while this one is fresh. Close your eyes." Hapless obligingly closed his eyes.
After a generous moment she spoke again. "Now look." He opened his eyes — and promptly lost consciousness.
Her snapping fingers woke him from his trance. "Sorry about that. I simply had to test them. They work."
Oh. She had flashed him with the displayed panty, and he had freaked out. "So it's not wrong for you."
"Obviously. Just as I'm not wrong for you. That box has missed twice now."
That was curious, as the Good Magician had a reputation for being always right, if frustratingly obscure. Why would he have an erratic box?
Cylla returned the box to him, and he returned it to his pack. They walked on.
They encountered a man going the other way. "Hi!" he said.
"Lo," Cylla replied. "What's your talent?"
"To carve air into a solid mass. Like this." He moved his hands as if slicing something invisible, then held them forth as if presenting something.
Curious, Hapless put his hands out. There was a block of solid air, invisible but definitely there. "Nice," he said, impressed.
"We're moving on," Cylla said abruptly.
Hapless returned the block of air and ran to catch up with her. "Why did you go? It's a perfectly respectable talent."
"He's an airhead."
Was that a pun? It certainly did not seem fair. Hapless decided not to challenge it.
They crossed a meadow filled with flowers. Bees were servicing them. But one bee flew directly toward the two of them.
"Get away!" Cylla cried, batting at it. Discouraged, the bee departed.
"Why did you do that?" Hapless asked. "It wasn't threatening us."
"It was a Wanna Bee. Anyone stung by one of those wants to be something else."
Oh. She evidently knew her local wildlife.
Excerpted from Isis Orb by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2016 Piers Anthony. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Back in my younger years, Xanth was the place. Now that I am a (lot) older, I still like the place. It seems that I haven't missed much since I have been away. Same zany main character and same accomplices albeit it new ones. I did enjoy going back, but am done for a while again. I got a good laugh and enjoyed the premise of the story. I think everyone should pick up one of the Xanth books just to read Piers and his writing which is superb. I was given this book by the publisher or author for an unbiased review from NetGallery.
I've loved Piers Anthony's Xanth novels for years, and the newest is as light and goofy as the rest. Is it formulaic? Sure. But this author isn't one to miss an opportunity to make a joke, poking fun at his own formula through his main character's observations. Nothing is sacred, including the author himself, so be ready for a frolicking read (yes, frolicking). And if you've never read a Xanth novel before, go back and start at the beginning. There are enough of them now to keep you laughing for months.
A very fun book! If your looking for an epic fantasy or series mystery, this is not it. This is just a fun story in the wacky world of Xanth. It has humor, puns, and a bit of puzzle solving. The thing about Xanth novels, is your told what the quest a person will be on and why, but you never know the twists and turns of how it gets too that end. My first Piers Anthony book, many many years ago, was the first Xanth novel, A Spell for Chameleon in 1977, and I loved it! I have read most of his books since then. Xanth is probably the only series of his that I have not read in its entirety, because there are so many. Isis Orb is #40 This is a typical Xanth novel, in where the Good Magician Humphrey gives out a quest to a citizen of Xanth, to give them a chance to find what they want. In this particular story, Hapless is the name of the main character who can conjure any musical instrument, but cannot play any of them, in fact, he is excruciatingly horrible at all of them. He wants to find the one instrument that he can play well. Humphrey sends him on the quest for the Isis Orb, a powerful device that may help him. Not to spoil anything, Hapless is joined by 5 other companions seeking there own answers to their problems, that the Isis Orb can help with as well. Its a fast and fun read, has zany characters, a good overall plot, and lots of juvenile humor... as is expected in Xanth novels. Its not a serious, epic, fantasy story, but no Xanth novel is. It is meant to be fun and is. I highly recommend this book to Xanth fans!