There has been a lot of good things said about Songs of the Earth and a consummate amount of praise given to the author of this debut novel. It has even been described as the "fantasy debut of 2011" when it was first released in hardback last year and has been on my list of books to read for some time now.
A lot to live up to and survive the hype but not only does Songs of the Earth deliver but manages to stand out as one of the finest high fantasy novels I have read in recent times and can be easily put on the shelf besides the likes of Patrick Roffuss and Brandon Sanderson.
One the surface Songs of the Earth isn't attempting anything that hasn't been done a thousand times before and many of the elements will seem very familiar, like the young hero from humble beginnings being saved from persecution by the older, wiser and more-than-meets-the-eye bloke who may or may not be a wizard. Said hero is trained in the arts and proceeds on a voyage of self-discovery while meeting interesting characters and getting involved in all manner of hijinks. Meanwhile in the larger world darkness gathers and something threatens to wipe out the puny human race in a violent and nasty fashion. Set in an earth like medieval time period and full of religious persecution and dogma.
If you've read more than say 2 fantasy novels the chances are that you will be familiar with this layout. It is however clear that it was never the intention of the author to break the mold of high fantasy, instead the author has created a novel that offers new refinements, a powerful voice and a synergy of styles. Setting the novel apart by the quality of the story, the beauty of the prose and the rich characterisation of the people. This is then built upon with a strong magic system, folkesque mythology and a clear, crisp voice which manages to further enrich that standard upon which it's built.
It's an incredible example of the genre and feels fresh, with a vibrant air, characters that come alive in the pages and walk through a world that is both detailed and imaginative. I loved the way that magic was described here and in places when combined with the folklore mythology it reminded me a little of the under-rated Tad Williams series "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn". A slight nod is given to the Harry Potter series but with a more mature feeling as benefits older students.
There is a really good balance between world-building and moving the story forward and there wasn't a single moment where I felt the pace slow or the plot pause. I also loved the whole structure of the story, despite clearly created for greater things the central protagonist Gair is not given a clear prophecy or other plot device and for the most part it's very positive and up beat which makes the last few chapters all the more powerful and gripping. This isn't a book that you can easily put down once you begin.
I simply can't rate this novel high enough it's a nigh-on perfect taste of high fantasy.
Written on Wednesday 22nd February 2012 by Antony.
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