A recommendation from Sally, this fantasy series is one which seems in line with lots of those I read when I was younger. Pitched as MG fantasy, it follows Maerad, a slave who discovers her previously unknown heritage and skill, and embarks upon a quest with mentor Cadvan.
I listened to this on Audible, and it took forever. For a book that’s quite unassuming on the shelf, it took me an absolute age to listen to it all – three weeks, according to GoodReads, and I have to admit that I’m not always the most timely at adding a book as reading in the first place, so I could well have started it a few days earlier. Generally, though, this is a pretty solid fantasy epic, with several more installments yet to come. Also marketed as The Naming, the Pellinor series has been around since the early 2000s, but I seem to have missed it at the time, so I’m visiting it now.
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.
This book has a fair amount in common with other series that I’ve read, including the Old Kingdom Trilogy, which I adored, and the Song of the Lioness series, which I hated, meaning that I could have swung either way on this one. It’s also reminiscent of The Wind on Fire, which I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned on here, but I’m a big fan of, and the Guardians of Time, which I adore. In terms of star ratings, it’s got the same number of stars as Alanna: The First Adventure, but stars aren’t a particularly nuanced method of ratings. Alanna is a very low three, whereas The Gift is a very high three.
On the surface comparisons, there are of course the following: Girl begins to train as a magician/warrior, and comes to realise that she is the holder of a great power, and destined for great things.
But The Gift is much more nuanced and developed than the Song of the Lioness. While I can appreciate that the Chosen One trope is a little tired, sometimes it’s necessary for story building, and Maerad does a good job of not being entirely wonderful as soon as she’s told who and what she is. Instead, she hates the idea that she might be the chosen one, and tries to avoid it wherever possible. She’s also slow to develop necessary barding skills which she should have come into years previously.
Also in parallel to Alanna is a scene where Maerad gets her period for the first time, and thinks she might be dying. Which, actually, was quite fun.
There were certainly plenty of weaknesses in The Gift – Maerad is kind of a special snowflake, and there are plenty of infodumps which ignore the storytelling maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’. There were lots of scenes of florid descriptions of landscapes where if I had been reading an actual book I probably would have skimmed lightly over the pages (much more difficult to do in an audiobook). Finally, a few of the twists were more than predictable. However, others took me by surprise, which I like. A mix of things I saw coming and little surprises keeps the story interesting.
This wasn’t an instant ‘I love it!’ the way other female-led fantasies have been (Tribute and Sabriel, for example) but it was certainly intriguing enough to keep me going. I have The Riddle, book 2 of Pellinor, lined up for after Neverwhere, and I’m looking forward to more butt-kicking magical discoveries. And I’m also shipping Maerad and Cadvan. I don’t care how big an age gap there is between them.