Book Review: ‘The Singing’ by Alison Croggon

Posted: 13 January 2013 in Book reviews
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At last I am finally writing about the fourth book in the ‘Books of Pellinor’ series by Alison Croggon.  It has been quite a while since I read it so I will do my best. Be forewarned that this book contains a few spoilers.  If that doesn’t bother you then read on.

This book begins where book 2 ended.  Maerad and Cadvan (who is actually not dead) travel south until they reach Innail.  It is a bittersweet reunion with Silvia and Malgorn (who has become the First Bard after Oron left for battle and never came back) who are shocked at discovering how different Maerad has become.  Malgorn ever assumes her a creature of the dark, which makes Maerad quite angry.  Silvia took Maerad’s differences much better, explaining the difficulties that had beset them since she and Cadvan had last been there.

After they rest themselves and get the things they need, they take their leave.  They aren’t able to make it too far when an unnatural cold settles in.  They know something was wrong so they attempted to make it back to Innail.  Now the battle for Innail has begun.  The Landrost has attacked and his winged Wers have made it passed the enchantments into the city.  The only way to save the city from the tempest the Landrost has unleashed is for Maerad to weave a charm that encompasses the entire city.  Once she understands the pattern of the Landrost’s attack and weaves the spell, the power from the other spellcasters is used to force the charm in place.  Their relief is short-lived as the Landrost finds a way passed the ward.  Maerad is their only hope.  She attempts to reach the Landrost, to understand it when it attacks her and nearly destroys her.  The Winterking appears to save her while Cadvan calls to her to bring her mind back to her body.

The story then turns to Hem.  He, Saliman and Soron are travelling towards Til Amon to warn them of the Black Army that approaches.  They meet up with a group of players (actors) with whom they travel until they reach Til Amon.  Their time in Til Amon is very short as the reality of attack it conveyed to the bards of the First Circle.  They watch a show put on by their new player friends and have dinner at a tavern raved about by Soron before saying farewell as they were to leave very early the next morning.

The story returns back to Maerad who is recovering from the mental attack of the Landrost.  Something needs to happen and soon as a deathly cold invades, stealing the life from all those not moving.  The only way for Maerad to save Innail is to become her Elidhu self undo the Landrost, which she does.  The toll is takes on her is immense and it takes well over a week for her to regain enough strength to walk unaided and be out of bed all day.  She is embarrassed by the awe bestowed upon her by the people (who know refer to her as the Maid of Innail), but he explains that she should accept it as she did save them in some sense and they need to someone to thank.

Back with Hem, he, Saliman and the players continue travelling north.  Hem and Saliman both even take part in the plays put on in the towns.  Hem had been so enamoured by the life of a player that when he finally got the chance to participate he was terrified.  It got easier the more he did it, but at first he could barely function.  Then tragedy strikes.  Hem sees Karim (the leader of the players) talking to a strange hooded man who gives him a bag of coins.  Hem relays the scene to Saliman, but they do nothing about it yet.

They seek refuge in a town called Hiert which is strangely abandoned.  They quickly find out that the people left because of the white sickness (an incurable illness that causes the infected to go mad and blind) as an infected man attacks Saliman.  Much to the horror of Hem, Saliman contracts the illness.  The players leave (as Hem should have done), but Hem decides to stay and try and heal Saliman.  They have to move away from the village as the river they crossed was flooding.  As Saliman’s body is racked with illness, Hem does everything he can to defeat the illness, which he does.

After they leave Innail, Maerad and Cadvan travel through the Hollow Lands.  Nothing much really happens with them.  They argue about a variety of things, Maerad fails to transform into a hawk, she contacts Ardina (an Elidhu), and she attempts to contact Hem with her mind.  He hears her but cannot contact her back.  From that contact alone he now knows which direction to go to find his sister.  The next day, Hekibel (one of the players) returns to find them both alive and well.  She relates the deaths of Karim and Marich and how Karim was informing a Hull (that he most likely didn’t know was a Hull) about what they spoke of.

Once Saliman gained some energy, they left towards the Hollow Lands.  They had some trouble passing Desor, which was now a city controlled by the Nameless One and waiting for the Black Army to join their forces.  In their attempt to bypass the city, they approach a barrier and after a scuffle are forced to flee and hide in a forest.  While sleeping, one of the guards form the barrier approaches and reveals himself to be a bard of Desor.  He takes to a different place in time where they can rest.  Hem is surprised to meet his grandmother’s sister and learns a bit about his family.

Over a week after Maerad summoned Hem, they finally cross paths.  They are so happy to see each other.  Also, the lyre and the tuning fork Irc (the crow) stole from the Nameless One had lit up and were humming.  They two siblings attempted to undo the Treesong but Hekibel stopped them (which was a very dangerous thing to do) because something didn’t feel right.  They were in wrong place.  They need it find Afinil where the Treesong was originally made.  The problem is, it was destroyed ages ago by the Nameless One and no one knows where it lies.

I’ll leave off of the synopsis here.  If you’ve read the other three posts about the rest of this series, you’ll not be surprised that my opinions have not changed.  It is a great story but the writing is only so-so.  The dialogue is pretty much the same between all the characters which is frustrating considering that Maerad was raised pretty much as a slave and Hem was an orphan.  They were not raised in the same privilege as Saliman and Cadvan, but yet they speak the same.  Now I can’t disclaim that because their mother was a bard, she might have talked differently, but considering how young she was when her mother died, it is not a strong argument.

There is really only one new character that continues throughout this book, Hekibel.  She is one of the players they meet on the way to Til Amon.  She is a very kind person and is obviously enamoured by Saliman.  She painfully regrets having to leave them at Hiert when Saliman contracts the white sickness, but she is not judged the less for it.  She is a very strong character despite her weakness as being the only one in the group who can’t use magic.  She is a very moral character, able to distinguish between right and wrong.  Overall I like her.  I’m glad nothing bad happens to her.

There are two things that irk me about this book.  The first is how Hem is able to heal Saliman.  I understand that the siblings are an anomaly when it comes to their powers, but come on.  As you read you are given the distinct impression that he is fighting a loosing battle.  Then all of the sudden Saliman is healed and nothing bad happens to him other than he is exhausted.  Completely unrealistic even for a fantasy book.  You can’t just randomly defeat something that you were sorely loosing against a minute ago with no explanation.

The second thing is more of a spoiler and a disturbing one at that.  It is generally understand that there is some weird chemistry between Maerad and Cadvan.  At the very end it is revealed to be romantic and that is just wrong.  Cadvan has been around quite a long time and if I understand correctly, Maerad is barely 17 years old, maybe 18.  I might have totally misunderstood that, but it is very pedophilic to me.

So, my verdict.  If you’ve already read this far you should definitely finish it off.  As I have stated before, the story is very good and I have enjoyed the complexity of the world.  I just with the character had as much work done to them as the world had.  Either way, I hope you enjoy 😉

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