In case I wasn’t clear, I plan to do the Franklin-fantastic: read at least 10 books by Australian women writers, across multiple genres, as part of the challenge, and review at least four, over the year. One will be a substantial review, but this is not that one.
The Riddle is the second of the books of Pellinor, by the multi-skilled Croggon (she writes novels, poetry, plays and criticism. Even thinking about it makes me tired).
The series is a coming-of-age story about a slave, Maerad, who discovers that she possesses the gift (and responsibility) of magic — she is a “bard”. But all is not well in the world of magic; a dark power, previously thought vanquished, rises. Ooooooooh!
I would have started with a review of the The Gift (called The Naming in some markets), which was the first book in the series, except that I began reading it in December and so that would have been cheating. Majorly. Anyway, I did notice that writer Narelle Harris did a review of The Gift already, as part of the Australian Women’s Writers challenge. And who would want to read my review if they could read a proper one?
Much like The Gift, I found The Riddle enjoyable and quick to read. Both books (and I hope, the rest of the series, which I will read once I’m done with the rest of the books I’m supposed to read this summer) were a bit like The Lord Of The Rings — perilous journeys; fights; poetry and songs; important swords; “horse kings” and other non-humans; unexpected meetings; weird names; and a rich backstory full of half-forgotten legend. While earnest, it’s not annoying. It didn’t take itself so seriously that I wanted to throw the book across the room, wishing it didn’t have its head up its own ass.
Unlike LOTR, however, there are actually women in the series: real, believable female characters who occasionally — shock horror, for a pseudo-medieval set-up — hold positions of power. It isn’t “patriarchy porn” (a term I came across here, which is so marvellous I had to share it) in that it doesn’t participate in the fantasy of a (non-existent) past where men hold all the power and all the leadership roles, and women are incidental to anything important.
Men are (again, hold on to your knickers) friends with these three-dimension women, and they speak to each other like normal, platonic companions. The male characters are much more real, too, than I ever found anyone in anything by Tolkien.
I must say that I did enjoy The Gift slightly more than The Riddle, just because The Gift was less dark and seemed to be written more tightly (at least, it seemed to me that it had fewer slow sections and more action crammed into it). I also felt that Maerad progressed a lot more in the first book; her growth seemed to plateau in the second, but then this may relate to my next point — I think I also enjoyed The Gift more because more “air time” was given to Maerad’s teacher, Cadvan, who I find quite compelling as a character. I guess it was fitting that without him, she floundered a little.
I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.