This originally appeared as part of the Author Appreciation series on the r/fantasy forum. You can check out more of the Author Appreciation series here.
A Very Short Biography
Melanie Rawn was born in 1954. Before getting her start in fiction she worked as a teacher and also an editor. She has a degree in history—something, I believe, that has had a great effect on her fantasy works with the world building and seeing how the societies function.
Before writing fantasy, Melanie Rawn wrote a romance novel titled The Rushden Legacy under the pseudonym Ellen Randolph. In all of Melanie’s books I’ve read there are at least little threads of romance. Relationships and family are usually a key element to her stories. She has written a number short fiction stories, but Rawn is most well known for her works of Epic Fantasy.
Rawn’s Fantasy Works
I am not familiar with all of Rawn’s works—there are a number that I have not read, so I will do my best to speak to the ones that I have read here.
Dragon Prince Trilogy (1988-1990) and Dragon Star Trilogy (1991-1994)
Dragon Prince, The Star Scroll, Sunrunner’s Fire
The Dragon Prince trilogy is one of the first epic fantasy series I ever read, helping to cement my love for the genre. The series revolves around a Rohan, a prince of a desert holding, and his family and friends in their struggle to wrest power away from a cruel overlord and establish peace throughout the various Princedoms. At its heart, Dragon Prince is a family saga. Throughout the series the characters age and the responsibilities of ruling are passed on to the following generations. Through various marriages the Princedoms become a giant chessboard with two main alliances. Rohan’s strength as a leader is not his sword, but his brain. But even a master strategist can be outmaneuvered by fate.
If you like reading stories with lots of political maneuvering, this is a great series for you. The biggest theme in this series is Power—the motivations behind the wanting of it, how it can be a burden, the responsibility of keeping it. But, because this is a family saga, it’s also a story about love, and how that has power too.
My one complaint with the series is that the early characters seem a little one dimensional. The good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are the bad guys, but there are instances where the good guys do bad things and the bad guys do good things, so it isn’t all cut and dry. The first generation of characters are a bit idealistic in nature. That idealism is challenged later in the series (especially in the third book) by the next generation as they are dealing with the consequences of their predecessor’s political maneuverings and ambitions.
Stronghold, The Dragon Token, Skybowl
This trilogy immediately follows the Dragon Prince trilogy and continues the story with a focus on Pol, Prince Rohan’s son, as a brutal war is fought that was hinted at in the previous trilogy. In this second trilogy the contrast of the characters between the first and second generations, idealism and honor vs pragmatism, become another huge conflict within the story.
Exiles Trilogy (1994-unfinished)
The Ruins of Ambrai, The Mageborn Traitor, The Capital’s Tower
Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai arrived on the scene in 1994 and it is probably one of the more ambitious fantasy novels I’ve read. The story takes place on a planet called Lenfell that was at one time, colonized by Mageborns—humans born with magical abilities. Now much of Lenfell is a wasteland after a huge war that devastated the planet. The story focuses on three sisters, Sarra, Glenin, and Cailet–heirs to the Ambrai line of Mageborns. They become separated when another war begins and end up on opposing sides.
The story Exiles tells is intricate and epic in nature, but like her earlier series, is also at its core about a family. In every way this was a step up from her previous two trilogies, however it remains unfinished. The second book in the trilogy, The Mageborn Traitor, was released in 1997, but, unfortunately, the series was put on hold while Rawn battled with clinical depression and pulled her focus onto other projects. There was some talk a year or two ago that Rawn was once again working on the third book, The Captal’s Tower, but I don’t remember hearing anything about it since then.
Unless you are the type that cannot stand reading an unfinished series, I highly recommend reading the first book in the Exiles trilogy because it’s just that good.
The Golden Key (1996)
This is a book Melanie Rawn co-wrote with fellow epic fantasy authors Kate Elliott and Jennifer Roberson. Honestly, I have not read this book, but I believe it has to do a lot with art and magic and the ever-reoccurring theme of using power for good or bad.
Spellbinder (2006 and 2009)
Spellbinder, Fire Raiser
In these novels Rawn returns to her romantic beginnings with an Urban Fantasy/Paranormal romance/Thriller series about a modern day witch living in New York City that crosses paths with a murderer. Not my favorite bit of writing from Melanie Rawn. I enjoyed the first book a little but not enough to pick up the second. Everything that I love about her writing (the worldbuilding, the intricate plots, the multiple threads and characters) was missing here, of course. It is a big departure from her secondary world fantasy.
Glass Thorns (2012-2017)
Touchstone, Elsewhens, Thornlost, Window Wall, Playing to the Gods
In her newest series, Rawn returns to writing secondary world fantasy. The final book, Playing to the Gods was released in 2017. The series starts off with Touchstone, and as much as I can tell it’s about a theater troupe, magic, and ambition. Unfortunately, I haven’t read any of these and they seem to have gotten mixed reviews so ymmv.
After all these years, Rawn remains one of my favorite authors and her works are what helped me fall in love with the fantasy genre. Her stories are definitely worth a read, especially the Dragon Prince trilogy which is just a wonderful epic.