Tag Archives: Elspeth Cooper

Review of The Raven’s Shadow – Book 3 of The Wild Hunt by Elspeth Cooper

Standard

Elspeth Cooper was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Raven’s Shadow – but the deal still applies. If I don’t like a book, I won’t bother to complete it and I certainly won’t write about it. It’s the reason why I don’t generally ask authors to submit books for review and am very reluctant to take requests unless I’m fairly certain that I’m going to enjoy the book. Did this, the third in this epic fantasy quartet, fulfil the promise of the earlier two books? You can read my review of the first book, Songs of the Earth here.

theravensshadowIn the Archen Mountains, Teia struggles through the high, snowy passes to warn the Empire: a war band is poised to invade, and their leader means to release the Wild Hunt – and with it Maegern the Raven, the Keeper of the Dead. In Gimrael, the fires of revolution robbved Gair of a friend and left him alone in a hostile city, unsure even if the Song is still his to command. He has one last duty to discharge, and then nothing will stand between him and his vengeance. And in the Nordmen’s chilly halls, Savin plays out a game in which kings, chieftains and men are but pawns on a chessboard than spans the Veil itself.

Yep. You’re right – it’s vintage epic Fantasy fare. But there is so much more to this excellent series than that. While the setup may not be groundbreakingly original, it is a solidly well-constructed world with plenty of depth and breadth – furthermore Cooper achieves this without pages of exposition.
I gave myself a break between reading the second and third books, as if I read a block of books from a single writer, I tend to find stylistic quirks start to grate and interfere with my enjoyment. But as soon as I opened up this hefty tome, I was immediately whisked back into the world of Teia, Gair and Tanith. The protagonists are vivid, enjoyable and bounce off the page such that I was soon immersed into the experience, relishing and savouring it – the mark of a thoroughly enjoyable read. That said, it isn’t a good book to pick up if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series. You’d miss far too much of the backstory to fully appreciate the characterisation and exactly why they are doing what. Gair, in particular, has a whole suite of emotional baggage due to his previous traumatic experiences – and neither would you fully appreciate Tanith’s irritation at the insufferable Ailric and his unwanted advances.

Obviously the main task of a mid-series book is to continue the story arc, continue the protagonists’ journeys ensuring the tension pings off the page and while the finale of this particular book cannot wrap the story up, neither can it sputter to an uninspiring close. And I’ve read far too many of those in my time.

Not so in this book – Cooper really lets loose. She has a clean, punchy writing style I really enjoy and when it came to the showdown that had been building from the opening scenes, she ensures she delivers an almighty battle scene that had me rapt. I should have got up and got going on my lengthy To Do list, but I was going nowhere without knowing first who prevailed. And – yes – I really didn’t know, because she has already seen off a couple of major characters that I’d become very attached to. We’re not talking the kind of protag persecution that Martin displays in his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, but nevertheless I was winded when they died. It was a triumphant climax to a cracking Fantasy read that is right up there with the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Kate Elliott and Glenda Larke in my opinion.

I’m really looking forward to the fourth book – and if you enjoy character-led epic Fantasy, then track down this series. It deserves be far better known.
9/10

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

Standard

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

Review of Trinity Rising – Book 2 of the Wild Hunt by Elspeth Cooper

Standard

I saw Elspeth Cooper in action at Fantasycon, where her sharp wit and even sharper intelligence were evident in the panels she took part in. So I was delighted when I saw this offering on the shelves and immediately scooped it up, despite the fact that it was the second in the series.

trinityrisingThe future holds nothing but blood and death and Teia fears there is nothing she can do about it. Her clan is riding to war, but her secret, untrained gift of foretelling has shown her they are riding to their doom. Meanwhile Gair is mourning his past but there is no time to dwell on his grief or hunger for revenge. Pursuing an artefact from the Founding Wars, he travels deep into the hostile southern deserts, where religious tensions are rising…

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I’m willing to divulge, but as you can already gather, we are in the realms of epic Fantasy in a familiar medieval setting. So is there anything to distinguish this offering from the many others out there with similar storylines? Well, it might not break any major new ground – but that doesn’t prevent it from being a really strongly written character-led story.

The tale is mostly in the heads of the two protagonists, with a couple of small slices in the head of the ‘big bad’. I wasn’t totally convinced by those interludes – he seemed rather two-dimensional, especially when placed alongside both Gair and Teia. And it is when reading these sections that this book springs to life.

I particularly loved Teia’s story. Cooper gives her a compelling storyline and provides a wonderful slice of the nomadic life of the tribes. Her depiction of their daily routine and how Teia gets swept up in a powerplay by a driven ambitious woman and a minor warlord who becomes her mouthpiece. Without losing any of the pace or tension, we get a ringside seat to this drama. I would just mention that is you have a pre-teen or early teen who enjoys your Fantasy offerings, there are a couple of sex scenes in this book that make it unsuitable for this age group – at the very least check them out first before passing it over. There is depth and passion in the characterisation that made me really care about Teia and kept me focused on her story.

So did I skim Gair’s sections to get back to Teia? No – because Cooper is good enough that I also cared about her other main protagonist, despite the fact that this was obviously the main character featured in the first book, Songs of the Earth. Gair has also got edges – and there are times when I wanted to shake him very hard. But that’s just fine – what that shows is that I was very invested in him and that Cooper has pulled off the nifty trick of having her main protagonist making an obvious mistake. I’m all in favour of that – far too often, main characters seem to be able to dance through highly confusing, dangerous situations without putting a foot wrong. As well as giving them a sense of invulnerability, it also makes them a whole lot less believable.

Am I going to track down the third book, The Raven’s Shadow? Oh yes. Trinity Rising managed to hook my attention all the way through – and managing that in epic Fantasy, which isn’t my favourite sub-genre by a long country mile. I’ll also go looking for Songs of the Earth – and if you do enjoy your Fantasy set in a medieval backdrop with enjoyable, well depicted protagonists and believable dilemmas, then I suggest you do the same.
8/10