Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Songs Of The Earth Songs Of The Earth
by Elspeth Cooper
Orion / Gollancz

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jan Butterworth
Simon Litten

Caught practising using magic, Gair is condemned as a heretic by the church and tortured to make him repent. Unexpectedly released, he is guided out of the city by Alderan, a stranger who understands The Song, the source of Gair’s magic. They make their way south, to an island Alderan knows of that has a school for others who can hear The Song. There is a bit of danger along the way as they are pursued by a witch finder.

The church turns out to have a number of factions, and the political manoeuvring among them is intense. One of them has employed the witch finder, who is curiously determined to find and kill Gair. Along the way, Alderan and Gair meet a character who will play a major role later. Gair learns more about The Song, and they narrowly escape death several times.

Told from the POV of several key characters, this book starts out slow, describing things and careful world building. A lot of information is given and it seems a bit boring. Please persevere though, things heat up in the last third of the book, nuggets of information make sense and you realise – aha! That’s why that happened – as things fall into place. Well worth reading and you get a good idea of the various players. Off to read the next in The Wild Hunt series!

-Jan Butterworth

Songs of the Earth is Elspeth Cooper’s first novel, and is the opening opus in a new high fantasy trilogy The Wild Hunt.

The story concerns Gair, a disgraced novice in a religious martial order who has been exposed as a witch and is now expecting to be burnt at the stake for his witchery. Gair is given a reprieve of sorts, evades recapture by the knights of his former order and is taken away to learn how to use his witchery. There are, of course, other events and stories happening while Gair comes to terms with being a witch and learning his craft but these are yet to intersect the main story (wait for books two and three). During the course of the book Gair makes an enemy or two, gains and loses a lover and comes to accept he is important in the witchery world and is left waiting for the a big confrontation or quest to give his life meaning.

Gair is a witchery prodigy, having great natural strength and ability, and is also a foundling so is unable to account for his preternatural abilities. To add interest the world in which Gair lives is separated from at least two other worlds by a veil of transubstance, with at least one wearing thin and in danger of being breached – and should that happen then the wild hunt will ride unhindered through the realm of mortals.

So much for the story, how about the delivery? For the first half of the book Ms Cooper used an intriguing style. For every chapter that featured Gair as the protagonist she began with very realistic nightmare dreams that disintegrated into rationality as Gair woke. At some point she stopped doing that and for me the book was the lesser for it as Gair ceased grappling with some intense personal demons. By loosing the dreams he became less of a flawed character and less interesting, which more the pity made his subsequent triumphs less heroic.

As to what happens next, whether a quest for Gair or a tear in the veil between worlds one is left guessing. Book two will reveal more.

-Simon Litten

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