Series: The Chronicles of Pellinor #1
Author: Alison Croggon
Pages: 494 (paperback)
Published: May 3rd 2004
Published by: Walker Books
Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, a gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfolds. Now she and her teacher, Cadvan, must survive a punishing and uncertain journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle with stem from the deepest recesses of other-worldly terror.
Maerad is a slave, in the middle of nowhere, knowing little of anything. Least of all her own history, her own family. That is until Cadvan stumbles into her life and whisks her off into a world of danger, adventure, and all manner of other things. She discovers she is a powerful Bard, the spell-casters of Annar and the Seven Kingdoms, coming into her power just at the second coming of the Nameless One.
First things first: I love this book. I read it for the first time when I was sixteen and loved it then. I'm re-reading it for like the fifth time now, and I still love it. Though there may be a bit of a 'rose-tinted-glasses' thing going on. But I'm quite happy with that! I've re-read it this time because I was tired of reading new things; I wanted a series I can get lost in, and this does it so well.
Because you can just get pulled into this world, this story. There's always something happening, always some new mystery being hinted at, always some new danger to be escaped. Yes it's an epic fantasy so there is the inevitable fact that weeks of the time covered in the book are spent by Maerad and Cadvan riding around Annar, but these parts are largely skipped over, and those that aren't are used to showing something, whether it be moving the story forwards or showing you more of the intricate world Alison Croggon has built.
Maerad is the central character, and you see her bloom in the first chapters, and grow through the remainder of the story. but she doesn't completely change. The impact of a childhood spent as a slave in a remote corner of the world under a harsh man has obviously had its impact, and while she does overcome some of this, she still has plenty of problems. She doesn't feel like she fits in, and she doesn't always feel comfortable around people. Though, there are several characters which she grows rather attached to rather quickly. I know it's a book and they don't have time to wait around for stuff to develop really, but it does happen a bit too much.
Cadvan is Maerad's dour and taciturn rescuer. You don't really get to know him, but only because of the way the character is rather than any failing in the writing, and by the end of the book you understand his reticence completely. But he's still awesome. He has this whole fire and ice thing going on, he can be quite reticent around people (though warm and friendly in the right situation), but you really would not want to get on the wrong side of him. And in my head he's David Tennant, which is never a bad thing.
There have been some negative comments saying this book is too like Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy, and I can't imagine there are many epic fantasy books about that you can't find his influence in. Yes, there are some things that are very similar - the two that stand out being that both have fortressed 9-tiered cities built around a cliff (Minas Tirith and Norloch) and a Dark Lord making a second attempt at power - but the substance of the story is vastly different, and keeps you reading. Which is all that really matters.