Mon 15 Sep 2008
Some months ago I reviewed the first two books of this series; those reviews can be found here and here. Ms. Croggon is an Australian award-winning poet and author; her husband, Daniel Keene, is apparently an award-winning playwright whose plays have recently been translated into France and performed extensively there. The books in this series are fiction, but Ms. Croggon has pretended that they are translations of some ancient documents that she has found, regarding the history of Annar, the Bards, and the life of Maerad of Pellinor.
This third book follows Cai of Pellinor, normally called Hem, who is the younger brother of Maerad of Pellinor, the Chosen One who must find the Treesong. At the end of The Naming (Book 1 of Pellinor), the siblings separate. Maerad goes north with her mentor, Cadevan, and Hem goes south with his brand-new mentor, Saliman of Turbansk. Supposedly Hem is taken south to protect him, but the armies of the Nameless One have started attacking the south, with their creepy half-metal, half humanoid dogsoldiers who can shoot fire out of their hands, and even creepier: the child-armies. Can Hem survive the siege of Turbansk, and what is he meant to accomplish down there?
Hem is a shadowy character throughout the first two volumes; it was great to see him finally get a whole novel to himself. He starts the book at twelve or so and ends it perhaps a year later (maybe even not so much as a year), but it’s a very important year. He does grow a lot; he starts out the book sullen, contentious, moderately unhappy, and lonely. By the end, he has connected with a good deal of people, discovered a calling for himself, and has experienced a good deal more loss and sorrow than he has before. Despite the fact that his early childhood was not pleasant, it takes all these experiences to form his character.
The secondary characters are just as much fun as they are in other books. Zelika, another orphan refugee, is stubborn but has surprising depth; the Ernani, ruler of the city, is strong, brave, and beautiful; all the characters stand in awe of her. We have seen a fair bit of Saliman in previous volumes, but he is more important in this one and readers come to love him as much as Hem does. Perhaps the best new character in this book is the crow for whom it is named; Hem rescues a white crow he names Irc in the first few pages. Irc becomes his companion, friend, and sort of familiar as the pages pass. He’s also a source of humor, and while occasionally it seemed that Irc’s vocabulary outstripped his thinking ability, I still loved reading about him.
This is a bit of a depressing volume. Only the fact that I knew Hem had to survive kept me reading at times. Ms. Croggon’s beauty and delicacy of language is amazing, and it does almost make up for the fact that we are seeing awful things done to people, especially children, on nearly every page. The book, I believe, gives a good idea of one side of a hopeless war (or at the very least, a hopeless series of battles). There are moments of great light and loveliness; they were few and far-between, unfortunately. Overall, I did not enjoy this novel as much as the two previous volumes, but I do admit that it is no less well-written than the previous two. On the contrary; it might even be better, given that the plot is a little less expected. I am, of course, awaiting The Singing (book 4) with bated breath. 4.5/5 stars.