Three Hands for Scorpio is the last adult book for young adults of Lifetime Grand Master of Fantasy, Andre Norton, who passed away on March 17, 2005 after a long and extremely fruitful career. Her magically detailed world-building skills, upright, against-all-odds characters, and fast pace will be sorely missed. Tor rushed a copy of this book of women-of-steel into print, so that the 93-year-old author could see it before she died. It is the last manuscript she penned alone, and has an action-packed storyline. I have read most of Ms. Norton's books, and especially enjoyed her women kidnap victims turned heroes, so I qualify as slightly biased. The plot development, characterizations, and readability of this story make it a joy to all of us who have yearned for a return to her earlier writing style, especially of young heroes. I was unable to put this book about young women down until I had finished it - all in just one day.
"Three Hands for Scorpio" has much in common with Norton's Witch World novels, in that it features triplets who are able to mind meld, and each of whom possesses a unique supernatural talent in the world-building storyline. There are also two distant, but powerful parents and an exotic setting which happens not to be Witch World, but another troubled border land, whose inhabitants are constantly at war in the dramatic tone. The setting might remind you of the Anglo-Scottish border before the accession of the Stuarts, except that the true battle is fought between the Light and the Dark, with an assist from magical cats, and the mundane world's princes and clan chieftains.
Clan Scorpys nurtures three daughters worthy of its proud name, who came into the feuding borderland in a single birthing. "Having no son to 'shield his back,' as the country saying goes" the triplets' father taught them horsemanship and the use of weapons in their fight of good and evil. Their mother tutored them in magic in their imaginary kingdom. Tamara, Sabina, and Drucilla must use all the skills they can muster when they are kidnaped by a particularly obnoxious band in the pay of the Starkadder clan. They are abused almost to the point of death, then left for dead in an underworld called the Dismals when the outlaws learn that the magic Scorpys clansmen are hot on their trail.
The Dismals is a strange, psychedelic version of the upper world with monsters such as huge spider-like creatures and things resembling praying mantises the size of a horse. The noble triplets are rescued by an enigmatic man named Zolan who aids them, then attacks them psychically. The princesses repel and almost kill him, then in turn save his life. The sisters believe his attack was some sort of test.
We long-time Norton fans know that Zolan can't be a true creature of the dark because his best friend is a cougar-sized cat named Climber, and of course the focus on what type of thoughts he sends with his telepathy.
There are many more testings and near-death adventures in the dark caverns of the Dismals, then the triplet sisters and Zolan regain the outer world, only to find that Evil has preceded them to the borderlands, and the King himself has been captured.
This is another completely populated mythology, Dark versus Light, fought by triplets by the one of the most underrated fantasy writers of our time.
If "Three Hands for Scorpio" cannot quite be cherished as Norton's best fantasy of underground areas, it will indeed be cherished as her final fantasy.