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Posted on 25 Feb 2020 in Fiction, SFF |

JULIET MARILLIER The Harp of Kings. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

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The author of the Sevenwaters series returns to the magic of ancient Ireland and the mysterious Otherworld in her latest novel.

The Harp of Kings  is the first in the new Warrior Bards series from Juliet Marillier. It is loosely connected to her Blackthorn and Grim series in that it is set in the same world and some of the same characters are featured. It could be read as a standalone, but if you haven’t read the previous books and want to avoid spoilers, it would be better to read Blackthorn and Grim first; the references here to the earlier series are a nice touch which would otherwise be missed.

Siblings Liobhan and Brocc are trainees hoping to join the Swan Island band, an elite team of warriors who only accept the best. When the warriors are hired for a covert mission with a very strict deadline, Liobhan and Brocc are asked to go. This is a rare honour for mere trainees but they soon learn that they weren’t necessarily selected for the reasons they’d hoped:

It’s like a punch in the belly. Travelling minstrels. We’ve been chosen not because of our skills in combat or our courage or resourcefulness, but because we can sing and play. I’m lost for words.

Their mission is to recover the Harp of Kings before the Crown Prince’s coronation, when the ancient instrument must be played. If it is not, the populace of Briefne will not accept the prince as the new king. The playing of the Harp has always indicated the new king’s acceptance by the gods, but no one can quite remember why this is necessary or where the Harp came from. It has just always been so.

Progress uncovering clues to the Harp’s whereabouts is slow and some details provided by their employer, the Regent, don’t make much sense. Liobhan begins to suspect that the folk of the Otherworld are involved, but can’t imagine why the fey would steal the Harp. Without it, no new king can be crowned and there will only be chaos. As Liobhan is forced to make a terrible choice that could jeopardise the entire mission, she can only wonder what it is that the fey really want.

Marillier’s stories are always wonderfully elaborate and this tale is no exception. As with her previous series, there are three main characters. Each of them has a distinct voice, from the first-person perspective of shrewd and fierce Liobhan; to the terse journal entries of the pragmatic Dau, a chieftan’s son; to the reflections of poetic Brocc, who is always getting distracted and writing songs:

I am not afraid to fight. But I am afraid to walk out into the unknown and perhaps find answers to questions I do not want to ask.

The respective character’s name is given at the start of each chapter but isn’t really necessary once you’ve got into the book, as the writing style changes with each character’s personal account. From the very first sentence, you know whose voice it is. (And, don’t worry, there is a pronunciation guide for the Celtic names.)

Overall, this is an enjoyable read for anyone who loves fantasy. If you loved Blackthorn and Grim, you’ll love this too.

Juliet Marillier The Harp of Kings PanMacmillan 2019 PB 400pp $29.99

Amelia Dudley is currently taking a break from a Master’s degree focussing on plant biology. She is the proud aunt of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy The Harp of Kings from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.