Some very interesting books are coming out of Australia these days, physiotherapist as you’d know if you’ve read the rest of my reviews (hint, hint). This was actually one of the first that I read, and it’s quite amazing, really. Part of that may be because Alison Croggon is primarily a poet, but it might also just be the overall strength of this work.
This work, the first of a quartet, takes place in a country called Annar. In Annar there are Bards, who all have the Gift. (Don’t roll your eyes yet, please.) Maerad is a slave on a mean little fief (a Cot) until she is accidentally discovered by a wandering Bard named Cadvan. Naturally, she’s 16, an orphan, spunky, and possessed of many deep magical Gifts of which she knows nothing. There’s also a possibility that her birth was foretold, and all that other epic fantasy rot. There’s probably no more point in telling you the plot, since I’d bet you can guess it by now.
What sells this book, for me, is everything else. The worldbuilding is amazing. So intricate, so detailed, that she included several appendices at the end. I don’t really know much about linguistics and for all I know she just copied Elvish, but the language she invented for the book seems quite complete. There are maps, and history, and other amazing things. The characters are also quite complete and impressive – they actually act human, among other things. Maerad doesn’t react in a completely plastic way to her changes in status; Cadvan actually gets sarcastic and frustrated at times.
The language . . . I could dedicate another entire essay to Croggon’s delicacy and poetic use of language. It perhaps won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those used to the taut sentences of science fiction and horror, but it’s amazing. I even liked reading her infodumps, and you know me and infodumps. Here, I’ll quote some:
“Cadvan laughed, startling her. ‘Oh, Maerad,’ he said, when he regained his breath. ‘Should you have strung it?’ He laughed again, softly, wonder palpable in his voice. ‘This is a thing precious beyond the ransom of kings. What would Gilman have done, had he known such a treasure lay hidden in his small cot? It is worth ten times, no, a thousand thousand times, the worth of everything in it. Such lyres have not been made for many a long age, not since the days of Afinil. It was carved by a great craftsman. I don’t know this script at all, and I know many that are long fallen into disuse; no doubt it tells the name of who made it. Instruments like this are known as Dhyllic ware, and a great potency is woven into their making. The virtue on its strings is one now long lost. I have read of these instruments, but I have never seen one. It was thought they were all lost. What a riddle you are!’ He looked at her, still smiling.” (The Naming, pg. 33)
People talk like that in this book, and somehow it doesn’t seem pretentious or artificial. It seems, to me, that Croggon heard them speaking in her head like that and transcribed it.
Another amazing thing for me in this book was the presence of love, in so many forms: romantic, yes, of course, but also the love of a teacher for a student, a mother for her child, between siblings; a rider for his horse; a teacher for his subject, a Bard for his cause (the Light, of course) . . . it was nearly palpable, the amount of love flowing through this book, and it felt to me like the author writing it was also a labor of love. Croggon’s love for her characters, as well as her love of language, poetry, and words, enriches the story from being a fairly typical epic fantasy to something more.
There are 3 sequels, two of which are published and the third of which is being released in Australia and the UK sometime next year. I’ll be reviewing the other two shortly. However, The Naming gets 5/5 stars.