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Apr 13

Songs of the Earth – Elspeth Cooper

About the book 

 

The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

For the Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

467 pages (hardcover)

Published by: Tor

Author’s webpage

This book was sent as a review copy from the publisher.

 

—–

 

I have put off writing this review for far too long. The reason I’ve put it off is more due to my philosophy of reviewing than anything else. You see, I tend to think that just because I may or may not like something, it doesn’t actually mean that the book itself is/isn’t good. It’s more an insight into my personal taste. Even when I do review something, I can completely see where the book would appeal/not appeal to certain individuals and that’s okay. We all have different tastes and styles – it’s what makes the world go round.

 

And yes, that’s why I’ve put off writing this review. I’m so completely middle-of-the-line with this book that I can too easily see that others might feel differently, so it’s hard for me to write a review based on my own thoughts rather than what someone else “might” think about the book if they give it a shot.

 

Raise your hand if that makes sense AT ALL. You get a gold star.

 

Songs of the Earth is a rather paint-by-numbers fantasy, and that’s probably why I’m so unimpressed by it. It’s a book I feel like I’ve already read a hundred times. The protagonist is a young man named Gair who can hear the Songs of the Earth, which is, in simple terms, magic. Due to this, the religious sect in his area tries him as a witch and decides that he should die. However, someone mysterious waves the death sentence and gives him a day to get out of the land. Upon the adventure of leaving his home he happens upon another mysterious man (who is the aged wizard in most fantasy tales) who takes him to a special school (like Harry Potter) for other individuals who have the ability to hear the songs.

 

As I’ve said before, there’s a reason authors march out age-old tropes in their books. They work, plain and simple. There is an audience for that kind of thing. Some people enjoy books filled with mysterious men, ambitious plans, shadowy antagonists and schools for special people. Other people will feel like they’ve read this book a hundred times before, just with different names. This is where I have a hard time figuring out what to write for this review. The honest truth is, there’s nothing wrong with trope. Yes, they are a bit exhausted, but there’s a place for them. At the right time, I’d love nothing more than to crack open a book full of wizards with long beards and chosen boys who worked as potato farmers. Maybe I just didn’t read this book when I was in the right mood.

 

Cooper fills Songs of the Earth with plenty of conflict, and much if it is incredibly interesting (if a bit tried-and-true). There is prejudice against people who can use magic, the veil between Gair’s world and the next is weakening, which is allowing all manner of exciting creatures through and there aren’t enough people to fight it. There is the issue with Gair figuring out exactly how to use his own power and how strong he really is. There’s a little romance thrown in for added spice, not to mention the witchfinder the Church Knights set out to find Gair. There is enough in this book to keep anyone busy, and even though most of it reminds me of some other book I’ve read before, it’s all very exciting and Cooper’s solid writing will carry the reader through effortlessly. In fact, you might be surprised how fast the pages will turn.

 

Characterization is something that I feel I need to touch on. There was a line in Game of Thrones season one, where Tyrion says, “I have a soft spot for cripples, bastards and broken things.” I have to say that I agree with him. The thing is, no one is perfect and books filled with characters that are too perfect almost never get finished because I just can’t buy it. Cooper did an excellent job at making her characters incredibly real. Gair, the “chosen one” in this book, is haunted by his experience in the jail being tortured and tried for death. One of his instructors has crippled legs and the list could go on. While these issues are rather obvious, it’s still refreshing to see an author use less-than-perfect characters in her book, and I’d love to know the reason behind why she did that.

 

That being said, Gair himself is a rather humdrum character to follow. His bits of the book were where the exhausted tropes seemed to march out in droves. Due to that, he was extremely predictable and lacked flair and color. On the other hand, Ansel was a very interesting character who didn’t seem get enough stage time. He interacted with interesting individuals of dubious repute and had his own aims and goals and colored the book nicely with a little darker, yet believable tones.

 

One of the reasons I enjoy speculative fiction so much is because the imagination knows no bounds, and SF seems to be the genre where the imagination plays the biggest part in the writing process. In the end, Songs of the Earth just wasn’t imaginative enough. Tropes have their place, and maybe I would have enjoyed this more in a different mindset, but as it sits, Songs of the Earth reads like a piggybacked version of plenty of other fantasy books. Despite her solid writing, Cooper just wasn’t inventive enough and in the end, Songs of the Earth paid for it.

 

3/5 stars

 

(as you can tell, I’m still having spacing issues. Forgive me, for I know not what the hell I am doing)

3 comments

  1. Paul Weimer (@princejvstin)

    It’s tough to write a book that falls into the “meh” category. I had a book last year that, for me, suffered this exact same problem as Songs did for you.

  2. Josiah Cadicamo

    Not to mention the absolutely horrid cover art. Uggg.

  3. Kristen

    Great review, although I understand about it being difficult to write! I had a similar reaction to this one and also had a hard time writing a review because of it.

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