A witch starts to put wizards rather literally in touch with their feminist sides but the author pulls his punches with this fascinatiing premise.
FANTASY BOOK REVIEW JACK VANCE RHIALTO THE MARVELLOUS THE MURTHE 1984 Gollancz / Orion Fantasy Masterworks #4
The closing volume of the jaw-droppingly good Tales Of The Dying Earth quartet. This is divided into a trilogy of novellas, featuring the powerful wizard Rhialto, and his many colleagues in sorcery.
There are so many wizards involved that Vance preludes the book with a helpful index of their names and status. Herark The Harbinger, Mune The mage, Ao Of The Opals, Haze Of Wheary Water, and their leader Ildefonse, among dozens of others.
The opening story, The Murthe, finds the wizards being attacked by a mysterious spectral woman. Rhialto sees her reflected in a pool of water though she is not visible on the banks. He is trying to figure the problem out when someone, possibly she, shoves him into the water.
He gets out and reports the incident to the other wizards, many of who have faced similar assaults, in life or in dreams. Pooling their resources, they discover that they are actually starting to turn into women, though they are quick to use their powers to stop this from continuing (leaving a major story un-pursued, as a full transformation in gender would have been fascinating.
The wizards realize hat this is the work of a powerful with, the Murthe, long since believed dead. The wizards are unsure how to defeat her themselves so they resurrect a wizard who did defeat her in her own day to ensure that he gets the job done for them.
An intriguing satire that could have been taken so much further. The dialogue and interaction between the wizards is terrific. Rhialto is a relatively minor player in this story and his marvellous label comes across as mere vanity on his part.