I read the first book in the Pellinor series, The Gift and found it readable but nothing amazing, I was too inclined to draw parallels with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Garth Nix’s Sabriel series. Even so, once I had started I had to get the rest of the books and find out what happens next as The Gift ended whilst the story was still in full flow. Kooky Little Sister managed to find me the other three books and I made a start on the second one – The Riddle. In The Gift we meet Maerad. An orphan and slave, she endures a brutal existence in a remote settlement until she is rescued by the bard Cadvan – a great magician who is travelling through the area as he escapes from the Landrost – the evil spirit of the surrounding mountains.
The books are set in an ancient land called Edil-Amarandh which is governed by seven schools of bards – people gifted in the finer arts of life and also in magery. Once renowned for their skill and service to ordinary people, the bards went to war against the evil king Sharma, remembered as the Nameless one (by this point both Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter has come to mind more than once) and were almost destroyed as he wreaked havoc in the land before the bards became strong enough again to subdue him. Many years later, he threatens to return, now more powerful than ever, and destroy Edil-Amarandh.
As he flees with Maerad, Cadvan is amazed at the power he recognises is residing within her and comes to the conclusion that she may be the one foretold in prophecies as the “Fire Lily”, the destroyer of the Nameless One.
In this second book, Cadvan and Maerad are found fleeing the servants of the nameless One and some of their own people, many of whom they realise have come under the evil Sharma’s influence. They seek help from the Pilanel, a nomadic people of Edil-Amarandh, as they try to decipher what Maerad’s role is and what the prophecy means when it says that they must search for the mysterious "Treesong", the key to Maerad's destiny. Maerad struggles to control the power of the “Gift” within her and soon finds herself alone and in dabger with the Ice King Arkan, once thought to be an ally of the Nameless One, on her trail.
This book felt a world away from the first. Any accusations that the book covers territory that other books have dealt with before are left behind as Croggan really comes into her own with this instalment of her quartet. The world of Edil-Amarandh, its people, its bard schools and languages are all explored in detail. Croggon has taken the time to develop a language for the bards and her efforts pay off giving the book depth and a feel of history. Croggon’s writing overall is eloquent and often, her use of rare words made me smile and wonder if they weren’t just made up.
The character of Maerad grows and becomes more complex in this book and her relationship with Cadvan more interesting. Her relationship with the Winter King also left me holding my breath waiting for something to happen. Unlike in many (perhaps most) fantasy novels, the female characters are developed and are often shown to be incredibly powerful and wise.
This instalment of the series is faster in pace, far less predictable than the first one and by its end left me insanely curious to find out what was going to happen next.
Book Review: Alison Croggon – The Gift