Australian poet Alison Croggon brings an eye for sensual detail to this heroic fantasy that follows the genre's familiar formula: A humble person is caught up in extraordinary events and led (or sent) on a journey by a wise figure, only to discover eventually that he/she is destined to save the world in an ultimate confrontation between the powers of good and evil. In this case the young person is sixteen-year-old Maedra, who is rescued from slavery by the Bard Cadvan. They share an exhausting journey toward Innail, one of the Bard schools and strongholds that govern the land, and Maedra grows to trust Cadvan as he reluctantly reveals his magical powers in several ambushes from evil creatures. But under duress she, too, begins to discover that she has a Gift--and more. After she has learned to read, ride a horse, and handle a sword at Innail, they set out on another dangerous trek to the prestigious city of Norloch, where Cadvan hopes to consult with his mentor Nelac to confirm his conviction that Maerad is the One who was Foretold. Many other characters and creatures come into this tale, as well as mystical intimations and dreams, and lavish descriptions of landscape, food, clothes, and room furnishings. In the tradition of Tolkien, a whole history of an ancient language and culture undergirds the story, and Croggon has even provided appendices of that history, a pronunciation guide, and an invented bibliography of her sources. Die-hard fantasy fans who can forgive its slow pace will enjoy this richly imagined story and look forward to its sequel, The Riddle
. (ages 12 and up) --Patty Campbell
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–In this first volume in a projected quartet, Croggon has created a world that is both authentic and exotic, welcoming and frightening. When 16-year-old Maerad meets a man named Cadvan, she is catapulted from her life as a slave to an epic destiny. Cadvan is a Bard, one of the magically gifted Starpeople, and he begins to teach her about her own gifts and abilities. He believes her to be the prophesied One who will oppose the Nameless, the dark power working toward the destruction of the Bards and the Balance of the world. As Maerad and Cadvan travel, they join forces with Hem, a mysterious orphan, and learn that the Nameless's influence reaches far into the world of the Bards. Encounters with great mythic figures of their world and threatening evil forces add to the epic flavor of their journey. Maerad's story is presented as a translation of the great epic of a lost civilization, and explanatory appendixes add to this fantasy's realistic feel. Maerad is a strong, bold, and appealing character, and her lack of knowledge about her world provides a framework for Croggan's background explanations. Supporting characters, including the Bards and those who oppose them, are given realistic traits and flaws. While some coincidences in the plot may stretch readers' belief, they are integral to the story. Maerad seems a kindred spirit to Tamora Pierce's Alanna, and her story will find a welcoming audience among readers looking for a challenging and fully realized epic adventure.–Beth L. Meister, Pleasant View Elementary School, Franklin, WI
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