Review of Songs of the Earth – Book 1 of The Wild Hunt series by Elspeth Cooper

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With my customary pin-sharp organisation, I’d blundered into the middle of this fantasy series when I picked up Trinity Rising, – read my review here – and was impressed enough to want to go back and read the first book – not something I do all that often.

songsoftheearthNovice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire – until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames. With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

The Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

I really liked Gair. While Trinity Rising focuses on Teia’s story, this book is all about Gair. Cooper has a knack of writing really likeable, sympathetic characters who still have plenty of obvious flaws and more than a few edges, which has me thoroughly rooting for them. Unsurprisingly, given his upbringing, Gair isn’t the most outgoing, trusting sort which can be as much a weakness as a strength, especially in times of trouble. The storyline is classic epic fantasy fare – a misunderstood, degraded magic system showing signs of wear with a troubled history and hostile religion ranged against its use. And a nasty character in the wings all set to use it for his own dark ends…

The unpleasant antagonist works very well in this book – Cooper builds up a real feeling of dread around him. The fact we’re not completely sure about his motives – other than he implacably hates Gair – worked well for me, as it built up an aura and narrative tension that now has me tracking down the third book in this fine series.

The other thing I liked was the deaths of a couple of major characters. While it initially winded me and can certainly be overdone – George R.R. Martin’s habit of disposing of a whole cast of characters I’d come to like and trust was a major reason why I didn’t get past A Storm of Swords – it stretches the bounds of belief to depict a major, bloody confrontation and yet still have all the main protagonists breezing through unharmed. Still, it takes a measure of confidence to pull it off such that it increases the stakes, adds gravitas to the suffering survivors and increases the narrative tension. All of which, Cooper triumphantly achieves.

If you enjoy classic epic fantasy, but find some of the recent grimdark offerings a tad bleak, go looking for this first book in Cooper’s Wild Hunt series. It’s a thoroughly well written, engrossing world.
9/10

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3 responses »

  1. Hmmmmmm… I kind of like the sounds of this one. What is grimdark, though? I keep seeing that term pop up. Is it a name for fantasy novels that are, well, darker and more grim than usual?

  2. Oh absolutely – you’ve nailed it in one! Think of Joe Abercrombie… K.J. Parker… George R.R. Martin… Mark Lawrence – they are all exponents of grimdark fantasy. And Elspeth Cooper ISN’T. Not that it is all joy and sunshine, but it doesn’t have that extra edge of bleakness that characterises the grimdark sub-genre.

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