...it's Jinian Footseer, by Sheri Tepper, closely followed by Billie Lett's Where the Heart Is.
I found Jinian Footseer in a charity shop when I was about eleven or twelve. There wasn't much of a blurb on the back - just a quote from a song in the book. I can't recall the other couplet, but it ended with this;
Eye of the Star
Where Old Gods Are.
Players, take your places. The land itself calls Game!
The reason I need to remember that is because the cover has been loved clean off in the last decade. The tops of a few pages are missing as well, near the beginning. I should really get a new copy, but they're a little tricky to find.
Although the back cover wasn't very informative, it seemed interesting. Intriguing. Jinian, on the cover, looked interesting too, her and the Oracle. I suspect this is where my long-lived desire for ruddy red hair came from.
The book drew me in right from the beginning. It talks about a strange world, and peoples with strange Talents (which I wrote a little more on here). It's a curious mix of medieval adventure and fantasy, but infinitely more readable. It's like a feminine version of Poul Anderson's work, if anyone out that is familiar with that, a little like Three Hearts and Three Lions. I can't pinpoint exactly why - the content isn't obviously similar, and there are a few differences, mostly the masculine/feminine thing I mentioned. That, and Anderon's hero was much more familiar with our modern world, while Jinian is completely separate. And Tepper doesn't go near Arthurian legends. But still...
As I get older, I see more things in the book. At one point, for instance, Jinian is touched by a Shadow, and becomes disheartened. The connection between her mind and body is broken, and although she continues moving for a while, out of habit, she can't bring herself out of her slump. Then, at other times, she is struck with a wild sense of activity, with no direction. She suffers from insomnia, too.
I read the book a few years before I suffered through my worst points with manic depression, but Tepper's writing describes the illness perfectly. I'm going to quote a small passage from the book here.
"And now you must decide which pain you will bear. That of being as you were. Or that of being as you are."
I brought myself up to my knees. That was as far as I could get. The hand that had held the teacup appeared again, a full cup in it, the steam rising into my nose. I gulped it, interrupting the gulps with sobs. "Pain of being as I am? I don't understand."
"But of course you do. The pain of curiosity unsatisfied, of ambition unfulfilled. The pain of love unreturned, of devotion undeserved. The pain of friendship rejected, of leadership ridiculed. The pain of loneliness and labor. Silly child. Did you think living was easy?"
Well, I had, of course. Not really easy, perhaps, but easier than this. I guess all children expect life to be easy. It seems easy, just looking at it from the outside. Being half-dead, as I had been for the past while was easier than this.
"It's easier to be dead," she said, seeming to Read me. "Always."
"I think I would rather be alive," I managed to say. "Even if it hurts."
There are other passages I've found meaning in, over the years. I couldn't tell you how many times I've read the book, but there's something new in it every time.
Incidentally, that's why my username is Bartelmy. Bartelmy of the Ban is the non-narrating character speaking in that passage.
When I first read the book, at the age of eleven or twelve, I was concerned only with Jinian's point of view. As I grew older, I began to understand the other characters, to gain sharper insights into them as I became more experienced, more life-full. Suddenly, when I was nineteen or maybe twenty, Bartelmy's viewpoint struck me. Not fully, but enough for me to realise how much myself and my life had changed since I first read the book. I go a little further into my past usernames and their logic here, if anyone's interested. I would like to add that it's not the literal aspect of the mother with which I'm concerned - more a less conventional kind of change, which, though not really motherly, is still part of growing up as a woman. If that makes sense.
Jinian Footseer is part of a trilogy of trilogies, written in the eighties, and scarcely reprinted since then. A few of the other novels, namely those containing Peter's adventures and those continuing Jinian's were mentioned at the end. I looked for them for years - this was before the internet, remember, or at least before I had regular access to it. I looked in charity shops, keeping an eye out for anything by Tepper. I never found anything else of Tepper's second hand, ever. I looked at the library, and it even looked as though Balsall Heath had a copy of Jinian Star-Eye...but, it was lost.
I did find a copy of The True Game, a printing which brings together the three Peter novels, King's Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard's Eleven. I was about fifteen then, I think, and since it was a reprint, I was able to order it from Waterstones. Incidentally, I picked up a lot of Tepper's other novels when they were printed by Gollancz in the early years of the last decade. The Visitor and Beauty are particularly good, as are Plague of Angels, Grass and the rest of the Arbai Trilogy, and The Gate to Women's Country, and -
Oh, just read them all. You won't regret it.
Peter's story overlaps with Jinian's near the end of his third book, and the beginning of her first, although the main part of it is set towards the end. The other two books in the Jinian series, Dervish Daughter and Jinian Star-Eye, I found on amazon, when I was nearly nineteen. They're about £30 together, but I picked them up separately, since I already had the first one.
The final trilogy, the Mavin Manyshaped books, I also found on amazon. However, they were quite expensive - about £30 for the combined edition. You don't want to know how much they are separately. However, a few weeks ago a cheap copy popped up, and my friend bought it for me. It's sitting on my shelf over there, waiting for me to be finished rereading the Jinian novels (I read the Peter series last week). I want to be properly ready before I finally read the entire series.
Incidentally, since Mavin is Peter's mother, her books are, I believe, chronologically before Peter and Jinian's, although she does show up throughout all six of the others. It's possible that her books encompass the whole series, in much the same way that Jinian's and Peter's overlap.
Another interesting element of the series is the fact that, although Peter was conceived first (or at least, written first), and Jinian is, technically, a companion character, she's also fully realised. When she shows up in Peter's novel, she doesn't reveal her whole history, or foreshadow very much of it at all. Nothing's contradicted, but Jinian is a far more subtle and internal person than Peter, and since all of the books are written from the first person viewpoint, one can only know what Peter knows. I will say though, that I wish the first Peter novel had included mention of where he and Jinian first met. I know that it's unlikely he'd remember, or think it at all important, but a tiny mention would have been enough. It would have leant the series even greater depth and entanglement through the various plots, although it's not like it suffers overmuch through the lack of it.