Phyllis Eisenstein was born in 1946 in the city of Chicago, and has lived in Illinois for most of her life. During the time that she attended the University of Chicago, she attended one of the weekly meetings of the city’s science fiction fandom and met her future husband, Alex. They were married in 1966 and remained in Illinois until her husband, a member of the US Air Force, was posted in Germany. She followed him to Europe and they remained there for three years, returning to Chicago after his honorable discharge from the service.
Once the couple returned home, Eisenstein took up writing professionally. Her husband became her writing partner on several of her books and short stories. Her first two stories were published in 1971. Heartened by this, she returned to college to gain a BA in anthropology from the University of Illinois.
After publishing several novels, including Sorcerer’s Son, Eisenstein became a writing teacher. At first she assisted author Roger Zelazny at the Indiana University Writer’s Conference in 1977. She went on to teach at Michigan State University, Oakton Community College of Skokie, and the Writer’s Digest School. For twenty years, she was on the faculty of Columbia College Chicago, where she taught classes in general science fiction, fantasy and an advanced science fiction writing course. Eisenstein received an “Excellence in Teaching” Award from CCC in 1999 and remained on the faculty for another ten years before she retired. Eisenstein split her later years of teaching at CCC to also working full-time in advertising. She is currently the executive manager of copy editors at a large Chicago advertising agency.
When Eisenstein retired from teaching in 2009, it was with the intent to return to writing. She is continuing to focus her attention on short stories and novellas, although a new novel series is in the works. Her latest short story is called “Sunstone” and appears in George R.R. Martin’s 2013 anthology Old Mars.
Sorcerer’s Son begins when the sorceress of Castle Spinweb, the beautiful Delivev Ormoru, rejects the advances of the sorcerer Smada Rezhyk. Demonmaster Rezhyk suffers from paranoia and assumes that if a woman refuses to marry him, then it is because she is secretly plotting his destruction. Rezhyk summons his favorite demon, Gildrum, and bids the demon to go to Delivev, seduce her, and get her pregnant. A sorceress’s power diminishes when she’s pregnant and Rezhyk plans to use this time to prop up his defenses from the attack he is certain will come. Delivev does not realize that the child she carries is biologically Rezhyk’s. Instead, she believes it to be the son of the young knight she rescued at her gates and fell in love with. Instead of aborting the child, as Rezhyk had assumed, she carries the baby to term.
When Delivev’s son Cray Ormoru grows up, he determines that he will become a knight like his father and sets out on a quest to discover why the man mysteriously disappeared, breaking his promise to return, and thus breaking his mother’s heart. Along the way, the demon Gildrum watches over him, as he has done throughout Cray’s life, and aids the knight wanna-be on his quest. The demon has become humanized through all his years of interacting with human beings. Gildrum feels love for Delivev and he has come to love Cray as if he were his own son. Yet, Gildrum is bound as a slave to the Demonmaster and is not free to return to them although he would wish it.
As Cray follows the cold trail of the knight he believes to be his father, the conclusions he learns about the man become impossible. He realizes that as a knight, he will never learn the truth about Sir Melor (Gildrum) and that the only way to learn the information he wants is to become a demonmaster and force a powerful demon to answer his question. Cray turns to the only demonmaster that he knows, Rezhyk, and asks to become his apprentice.
Rezhyk accepts Cray as an apprentice, intending to not teach him anything, for the sorcerer fears that Cray is Delivev’s means to exact revenge on him. However, Gildrum secretly teaches Cray the knowledge that he needs to become a demonmaster so that Cray might free him from bondage. The story moves into new directions at this point that is not only logical, but is emotionally believable, leading to a satisfying conclusion.
Phyllis Eisenstein is an easy author to overlook. While she has published six novels and around 40 short stories, most of which are in major science fiction magazines, because the bulk of her work was published in the late 1970s and 1980s, new readers might not be as aware of her as an author as they should be. Sorcerer’s Son was the first Eisenstein novel that I read and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I honestly believe it is her best novel overall. While it is a simple coming of age story, the novel expands into concepts of slavery, love, and the loss a parent feels when a child matures and leaves home. The feelings that it engenders in the reader are strong and if you are a lover of fantasy novels, this one will not disappoint. If you are an adoptee, it will resonate with you even more.
Sorcerer’s Son is difficult to find, although it has undergone several reprints by Del Rey down the years. You can purchase used copies on Amazon or search through your favorite used book store for a copy. I still have a first edition copy in my stacks, but I purchased it new back in 1979 when it first came out. Sorcerer’s Son is the first book of a trilogy, the second novel, The Crystal Palace, continues the story of Cray Ormoru and both books can be found in an Omnibus that was published in 2002. The third novel of the trilogy, The City in Stone, was completed by the author, but due to her publishing company going out of business, the book became orphaned and was never published. It is my hope that one day it will be and we can finish reading the story about Sorercer Cray Ormoru at long last.
The Book of Elementals
Sorcerer’s Son (1979)
The Crystal Palace (1988)
The Book of Elementals (omnibus of Book I and II) (2002)
The City in Stone (completed but unpublished)