It’s been far too long since I’ve read this series.
Sold as a slave at a young age, Maerad only dreams of freedom. Her only solace is a lyre that belonged to her mother, who was sold as a slave with Maerad and died many years before.
Freedom comes in the unlikely form of a man named Cadvan. Travel worn and on a mission, Maerad is surprised to discover that Cadvan is a Bard–a user of a curious language known simply as the Speech to perform fantastical works. Cadvan tells her that she too is a Bard, sensing a great power within her.
But as Maerad becomes more aware of her powers, darker forces also take notice. Could Maerad really be The Foretold—the only one who can defeat the darkness?
The Books of Pellinor was my introduction to high fantasy, and having read a fair bit of fantasy since then, this series was a perfect start for me.
The plot is fairly common in fantasy and YA: a chosen one plot with a clear dichotomy of good and evil. The chosen one in this series, Maerad, is hesitant to be the chosen one, afraid of her powers. I do have to say, that I always thought that The Naming served as an extended prologue to the actual Books of Pellinor, since this first book is all about Maerad discovering her power, and the next books are when we see her use it against the forces of the dark.
That being said, while definitely a long prologue, it’s a thoroughly satisfying one. I like how (despite the prologue-y feel), everything that happens in this book will become important later.
So if this is a fairly generic plot, why stick around? Two things: characters, and world building.
Maerad and Cadvan are one of my favourite duos in high fantasy. In a way, they’re like Obi-wan and Anakin Skywalker: they evolve from mentor/student to best friends. Maerad, a teenager hardened by life as a slave, but terrified of both men and her great powers, if a great protagonist. I really relate to the way she struggles with socializing, feeling left out and beneath these people who know so much more than her. It’s not the first time we’ve had a humble protagonist, but I like her a lot.
Cadvan, on the other hand, is the snarky lone-wolf type. Who’s also crazy powerful and well read. His dark past also borders on cliche, but it also makes him a very interesting character. Cadvan is super preachy, and very proud, two things that I don’t think he would be if he didn’t have dealing with the Dark forces when he was younger.
The world building is also excellent. Alison Croggon has a great sense of imagery, able to capture the cruelty of Gilman’s Cot to the decadence of the barding schools to the barren of the wilderness without missing a beat. I love her magic system, The Speech, and the political struggle introduced through the Bards.
My one nitpick with her writing style is that it’s an odd mash of high fantasy and YA. Sometimes her writing is very elevated, and I enjoy it. Sometimes, her writing is silly, hinting at relationships and jokes, and I enjoy it. But when they clash together on the page, it throws me off.
Finally, I really like her emphasis on the balance of the Light and Dark, which Maerad and Cadvan both constantly deal with. Maerad is scared of her powers because she’s afraid of what she could do. Cadvan doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself for his lapse in his youth. All the characters ride that fine line between good and evil at some point, and it’s really interesting.
Recommendation: Buy. Fans of high fantasy and strong female leads should really check out The Books of Pellinor (I’m looking at you, fans of Mistborn).