When discussing with my friend Sally a few months ago what our favourite fantasy series from when we were young were, she mentioned the Pellinor series, or the Riddle of the Treesong. I had never even heard of them before, but having read the blurbs, they definitely sounded like the kind of thing I would like. So I listened to the first two (of four) books on Audible. I’ll definitely keep going with them, because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed The Gift and The Riddle. There’s also a prequel novel, The Bone Queen, which I’ll also probably read (or listen to), as I’m enjoying Cadvan and Maerad’s story, and I’d like to know more about Cadvan as a young lad!
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.
Maerad is a girl with a tragic and bitter past, but her powers grow stronger by the day. Now she and her mentor Cadvan, pursued by both the Light and the Dark, are seeking the Riddle of the Treesong. This mysterious Riddle holds the key to restoring peace to her ravaged kingdom and defeating the enemies she is fated to battle. But what is the true nature of those enemies, and of the Riddle? And is Maerad herself the greatest riddle of all?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to these two books. Alison Croggon has clearly put massive amounts of thought and work into creating a world which is complex and well-developed, with characters who have believable motivations and interesting personalities. Maerad is a great heroine, filled with reluctance to accept who she is, and fighting against the difficulties of being in a woman in a world that’s not always woman-friendly. her difficult early years have left her bearing the burden of a lot of emotional trauma, and she’s far from perfect in any ways. The story of her quest to find the treesong, halfway through it as I am, has been compelling and intriguing, and I’m definitely going to read the other books in this series.
But. BUT! I have a major issue with this series. And this isn’t even the only series I have this issue with.
My issue with this series is… too much backstory.
Too much? Too much, I hear you cry? How can that be the case! World-building is so important! Paper-thin motivations and worlds which only make sense if you don’t think about them are the bane of your life!
Well yes, that is true. But Pellinor has gone too far the other way. The first half-hour and last hour/hour and a half of both books that I’ve listened to so far are random extra appendices and notes on a world that – lest we forget – doesn’t exist. Extensive discussion is had of the culture, history, and development of the world, without any real relevance to the story. It’s like it’s just trying to convince the reader that the author has really, really thought about how this world works. And I’m not here for that! I’m here for a story.
If I wanted to read a book with appendices as long as the story, I’d go back and slog my way through The Lord of the Rings again.
Here’s my opinion: if your world-building doesn’t need to be explained for the story to make sense, don’t include it in your book! One of my favourite things about the Old Kingdom series is that it’s so clear Garth Nix has reams and reams of information about the Old Kingdom and about Ancelstierre, and about the civil war that forced Southerners to flee to Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom … but he doesn’t need to lay it all out for the reader, because he integrates the important parts into the story! If it’s not necessary for they story… don’t include it! I don’t care! Stop padding out your book with information that’s totally extraneous! I’m not here for that kind of stuff.
Also, the structure of the book has meant that, because we know that the Pellinor books is a retelling of a story written by Maerad and Cadvan, we also know that both main characters will survive the story, and go on to write their book. Hello, where’s the peril for them there?? Disappointing.
That said, though, my complaints are only enough to knock a little off the ratings, and I will definitely keep going, because there’s so much that’s praiseworthy in these books.
The Gift: Three Stars
The Riddle: Four Stars