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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Gift. First Book of Pellinor. By Alison Croggon

Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin, 2002

Alison Croggon is a poet. It shows, in the style of her writing and in the verses used as ballads and prophecies in this book.

The fourth Pellinor book has come out recently and I was sent a copy to review, but as I hadn’t read the others, I thought it might be better to go back and read the series from the start. As I can’t review this one for January Magazine, which only does recent publications, I thought it might be reasonable to put my thoughts about the earlier books on this site instead. After all, not everyone has read them.

I’m not crazy about most fantasy being published these days. I loathe the multi-volume sagas in which the long-lost heir or the Chosen One is chased by the minions of the Dark Lord. And I feel let down by SF writers who have changed over to fantasy, however well they write it.(Lois McMaster Bujold, for example, has lost this particular reader till she returns to science fiction.)

But young adult fantasy is different, perhaps because its intended audience is just discovering it. It tends to be more readable, even if it is about a Chosen One being chased by the minions of the Dark Lord. The Harry Potter series did very well, thank you!

Maerad, a slave in a northern community with a Saxon flavour, finds out that she has magical abilities, when Cadvan, a Bard, turns up in the barn and only she sees him. She escapes with him, taking her precious lyre, the only reminder of her early life. She learns that her mother was a Bard, one of a magically and musically gifted community who mostly run the towns around their Schools, doing the healing and the other things necessary to keep them running smoothly. But the Nameless One, a former Bard who went over to the Dark Arts centuries ago, is almost certainly on his way back, helped by sidekicks known as Hulls. The problem is, how do you convince the Bards of the Light to do something about it when they’re fighting among themselves and some of them can’t even keep their peasants happy any more?

Again, in this novel, we have a heroine who is a Chosen One being - yeah, chased by the minions of the Dark. The author is clearly a fan of Tolkien. Like Tolkien, she has an introduction which indicates that the story takes place on this planet in a time in the distant past, possibly on a continent that no longer exists. There was the equivalent of the Last Allaince between Elves and Men. There’s even a sort of Galadriel figure ruling over a forest kingdom. But I did find the Bardic politics intriguing. And Tolkien wasn’t cheeky enough to include a bibliography of non-existent books at the end.

I found this book very readable stuff, with characters worth caring about, and will be interested to read the rest of the series.