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This book is the second in the series 'The Books of Pellinor', and sequel to 'The Gift'. Firstly, the story follows directly on from 'The Gift', so it won't make much sense unless you've already read th
at one. 'The Riddle' is quite different in tone, being much darker, but I still enjoyed it greatly.
*Spoilers for 'The Gift' Ahead!*
'The Riddle' picks up directly where 'The Gift' left off, with Maerad and Cadvan fleeing the capital of Norloch, having discovered the corruption at the heart of the Bardic order. The bards are the magicians of Edil-Amarandh, who love music as much as their namesakes do, but are also have magical gifts, and run their country. Maerad and Cadvan are searching for information that might help them defeat the Nameless One, an dark bard who has sacrificed his name for immortality and enormous powers. Cadvan suspects that Maerad may be the one prophesied to overthrow him, but this brings them no closer to actually doing so. Separated from Maerad's brother, who has travelled south to defend the front line of battle, and now outlawed, the two of them head into the frozen north, hoping to avoid capture. However, in a freak accident, they are separated, and Maerad finds herself in the court of the Winterking, an elemental who is one of the closest allies of the Nameless One. However, he is not as heartless as his reputation suggests, and as Maerad searches for a way to escape, she finds herself wondering if she really should...
Gone are the light-hearted moments of the first book. Instead, the story is haunted by a sense of sadness, a sense that Edil-Amarandh is running out of time as the bards turn on the few people who might be able to help them. This is really emphasised in the scenes where Maerad is brought before the Winterking; she has grown up withour her family, without a place in the world, and now she has lost her saviour, Cadvan. On top of this all is the pressure of being the 'chosen one', but having no idea what she is supposed to do about it. The way in which Alison Croggon portrays her grief in these scenes is heartbreaking. As ever, the strength of the book is in the depth of the characters; Maerad and Cadvan's intensely complex relationship is beautifully portrayed as they waver between mentor and pupil, to something far closer. The Winterking too is a complex character; although initially cast to be the villain of the peace, he too has a far softer side, and the reader is lead to feel great sympathy for him. The scenery is just as beautiful as the characters are, and the frozen hostility of the north is portrayed particularly well. As with the previous book, the story is complemented by maps and appendices which add even more detail to the world Alison Croggon has created. This book broke my heart in places, but I utterly adore it, and couldn't wait for the final two in the series: 'The Crow' and 'The Singing'.
The Riddle is the second book in Alison Croggon's Pellinor series, which begins with The Gift and ends with The Singing. This tetralogy (or quartet, as Croggon herself refers to the books), is aimed at young adults, and is a very descriptive account of the adventures of a young girl called Maerad and her struggle against the Dark. The story takes place in the world of Edil-Amarandh, and the books are based on 'The Riddle of the Treesong', or 'Naraudh Lar-Chanë' in Annaren, the language spoken in Annar, which is a region in Edil-Amarandh. In The Riddle, Maerad, Cadvan, Saliman and Hem have had to flee Norloch, which is now in the power of the corrupt first Bard Enkir. For safety, they decide that Saliman and Hem will travel South, while Cadvan and Maerad try to find 'The Treesong', even though they do not know what it is. For more information about the world of Pellinor, go to: http://booksofpellinor.com
Alison Croggon was born in the Transvaal in South Africa, and her parents moved to England before settling down in Australia when Alison was seven years old. Alison was a poet and playwright before she became a fantasy author, publishing The Gift in 2003. On her website (see below) you can find more information about the books and the author, as well as some short reviews and an essay on 'The reality of fantasy'. As I have mentioned, Croggon was an acclaimed poet before she began to write fantasy books, and has published seven poetry collections. This also shows in the Pellinor books, as each chapter begins with a short poem. I must admit that I skip these myself, but it's an added bonus if you're into that kind of thing. Croggon's fantasy writing career is as successful as her poetry writings, and The Gift was names one of the Notable Books of 2003 by Australia's Children's Book Council. Alison also keeps a blog about the world of Pellinor, where she keeps her readers informed of any news. http://www.alisoncroggon.com
The Riddle is the second book of a quartet about a girl called Maerad, her mentor Cadvan and her brother Hem.
Maerad was once a slave in Gilman's Cot, a life she was saved from by the Bard Cadvan. In The Gift, Maerad and Cadvan travel towards Norloch to instate Maerad as a full Bard, as Cadvan believes that Maerad is important in the ongoing struggle against the Dark force of the Nameless One. In The Riddle, Cadvan is certain that Maerad will play a big part in defeating the Dark, and they have discovered that they must find The Treesong, which they believe will make everything clearer.
One of the main concepts which needs to be understood is the idea of 'Barding'. In brief, a Bard is a person born with the ability known as the 'Gift'. These people naturally acquire a magical language known as the Speech, which is understood by all living beings and which can be learnt by ordinary human beings to communicate. Bards have differing strengths of power, and all Bards live according to the Balance serve the cause of the Light. Bards can go in three directions: Reading, Tending, or Making. There are also the Elidhu, who are immortal beings. Maerad can communicate with some of the Elidhu, even though they have not communicated with humans or Bards since the Great Silence, which was the last major threat from the Dark.
Here's a really brief summary of the story, as it would be very easy to give things away for this one:
The Riddle is about the travels of Maerad and Cadvan, who are now on a quest to save the light. They are being sought by Enkir, the power-crazed first Bard of Norloch, who has convinced people that Cadvan and Maerad are traitors of the light. But they are also being pursued by more elemental forces such as Stormdogs, making their travels very dangerous.
Now, hunted by both Light and Dark, Maerad and Cadvan search the Riddle of the Treesong before the Dark takes over. On their journey to the island of Thorold they are attacked by a Stormdog, which is a being which can only be controlled by the Elidhu. This makes them realise what they're up against. Luckily Maerad and Cadvan find a safe place to rest in Thorold, but not for long, as Maerad's powers continue to develop and it becomes clear that they have to move on. In the Far North, Maerad travels through a terrifying glacial wilderness, is captured by Jussacks and brought to the icy world of the Winterking. Here, Maerad must face many challenges and confront the riddle that is within her, as she struggles against the power that is pressing down on her.
WHAT I THINK
I enjoyed reading this story and found it better than the previous book, as the author really comes into her own style here. The entire series is very detailed and intricate in its descriptions of the world, the characters and the context in which it is set. I no longer felt the need to skip anything, as the long descriptive paragraphs are now shorter much more interesting to read and, most importantly, relevant to the plot. I will admit to skipping over the odd piece of poetry still. However, all these details add to the sense of authenticity you get when you read this book, as do the appendices at the end of the book, which offer even more information about the world of Edil-Amarandh.
The plot of this book is mindboggling, just when you think you know what's happening, everything turns upside down. It is, as the title suggests, a real riddle. However, this is not done in a frustrating way, but in a way that entices you to read on. The author cites the Lord of the Rings as her inspiration (dating back to when she was ten years old), and while the previous book contained definite Lord of the Rings elements, in this one Croggon develops her writing style to the point where Lord of the Rings is completely forgotten.
As I've mentioned in my review of The Gift, what's great about these books is the fact that they mix fantasy and travel, and give it a historical feel. Whilst this genre won't appeal to everyone, I actually think if you can get through the first book, the second is a real treat. If you like to travel and have always wanted to see more of the world, you will love this book, because the descriptive detail is excellent, and it will remind you of places you've seen and places you would love to visit some day. In this book, the winter landscapes are superbly conveyed and you can feel the cold in your bones as you read.
Character development is one of the main strengths of The Riddle, as Maerad and Cadvan's personalities continue to deepen, while Croggon also gives the reader a detailed image of each of the characters they meet on their travels. The Winterking especially is described so well that you can feel the inner conflict while you read. Croggon's talent lies in giving the reader a snap-shot of each character and then gradually developing the way in which she portrays them. The book is written in the third person, mainly from Maerad's point of view, meaning that the reader discovers a whole new world while she does.