by Kristen Britain
Karigan G’ladheon finds herself caught up in Kingdom-wide events when she crosses paths with a dying man on the run. He is a Green Rider – of the King’s Messenger Service, and his mission is to get a message warning of danger to the King. Karigan takes up his mission as he instructs her with his last breath, and thus launches herself along a path only legends are made to travel.
Aided by folk who don’t get involved with just any errand, and pursued by enemies who don’t act on whims, Karigan becomes a wild card in a game between highly skilled players. The game board was set before her arrival, the pieces moved as their controllers wished, until she enters and forces everyone’s hands, becoming the deciding factor simply by being where she is, and acting as herself, at any given time.
Author Britain engages in authentic world building here. Each detail is part of a wider picture, and there is the feeling of many details left un-explored, due to the necessities of the plot. This wider world makes the story a joy to follow, even as we learn more with each event.
That said, the world itself will be familiar to Tolkien readers. It’s a riff on the standard mystical version of British/ European feudal Middle Age society found in a lot of Fantasy books, yet a bit more grounded and “earthy” than, say, The Wheel of Time‘s setting. The various populations are not caricatures of societies in our own history, yet familiar as if they had evolved on a tangent branch of the cultural tree of our own historical European cultures. The Green Riders have the flavor of Irish/Celtic culture, as well as Rohan from LOTR, while still being different enough to be something like the younger cousin of those cultures. And the same goes for the other groups represented (though with less delving into their past, due to not occupying center stage).
Britain’s characters are also utterly real. Emotions ring true, and as irrational as emotions should be, as characters perform actions that are true to themselves as well as service the plot. She used the roving third-person limited POV to great advantage, as each character gets a distinct voice, and the reader gets more information essential to the story at the same time as learning the people. Also good with the dramatic tension, as neither reader nor characters have all the information.
The elements of the story are tight, in that there are no stray ruminations or information, no tangents simply to show off some aspect of the world Britain has built. All things presented arise organically from the story rather than the setting. Characters act in character as they’re presented with plot events, which resolve in one way vs another due to the actions of the characters.
Reading the acknowledgments page of a book is usually something I skip. I’m glad I at least gave it a sentence or two this time around. Knowing that Tolkien inspired the author allowed me to see the things this book has in common with Lord of the Rings as a homage instead of derivative. If I had been reading any more shallowly than I was, I may have passed that judgment, but Britain instead weaves familiar elements into something new, and it would have been a shame to miss it.
This story is well crafted, and a balm to clunky storytelling everywhere.
This is a republishing (new blog domain). This review was originally published in February 2005.