Chris's Reviews > The Riddle

The Riddle by Alison Croggon
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Mar 15, 11

bookshelves: pellinor
Read on March 15, 2011

Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ suggest that the more different archetypal narratives a novel includes the richer it becomes (Booker admires ‘The Lord of the Rings’ for this), and on this basis Croggon’s Pellinor series must be rich indeed. ‘The Riddle’ includes the themes of the Quest, Overcoming the Monster, Voyage and Return and Tragedy, while it is only a matter of time and two more novels before we must surely encounter Rags to Riches, Comedy (in the classical sense) and Rebirth. On this understanding alone ‘The Riddle’ is very satisfying, even as a middle volume in a sequence.

But novel writing is more than just a matter of narrative structure. First and foremost must come characterisation. Maerad, the young heroine of the tale, would, in a modern context, be just another petulant teenager, a trait which some reviewers have found annoying but is absolutely right, not just for plot reasons but because that’s exactly what teenagers are normally about. While she is the Chosen One with innate mysterious powers (and you could argue that this is an annoying motif in itself), she still has to rely on her human resourcefulness, her stubbornness, her quick-wittedness and her physical strength. I liked also the roundedness of many of the other characters, even those who appear for such a short time, and even those who don’t support Maerad’s cause.

Other important elements in a story are a sense of place and time, and here Croggon has thought long and hard about the nature of her secondary world. The journey Maerad takes is one we take too, from cold to warmth, from mountains to plains, from habitation to habitation, because her descriptions give us exactly what we require to imagine and sensually feel ourselves there. There is also a clear sense of the passage of time, marked by key dates in the changing seasons (the book ends on midwinter’s day, for example) and Maerad’s monthly periods arriving at the time of the full moon.

Finally, Croggon’s theme is about words (as the title of the book hints). Poetry (real poetry, mind you, not doggerel verse) suffuses both prose and song in her text, recounted in English; and for the linguist too there is much delight in her creation of the languages of Pellinor: the names of peoples, of things, of places, of concepts. And let us not forget the crucial dialogues that Maerad has with key figures in the story; for those who like their fantasy dished up with lashings of action this may be a weakness, but for those who love words, the to-and-fro of conversations and the subsequent conflicts or resolutions that arise from them this must surely be a strength.

A word about Cadvan: as a wizard figure he has resonances with both Gandalf and Dumbledore here, though it is clear that we are to think of him, despite the discrepancy between the aging of Bards and ordinary mortals, as a relatively young man. Like those other two wizards of modern writing he too disappears, and like them his dramatic loss through violence must be felt deeply by the reader, but it is for the reader to find out whether the loss is temporary, as with Gandalf, or permanent, as with Dumbledore.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Lauren I do believe you've encapsulated my feelings for this book. An excellent review, very insightful.


Chris Lauren wrote: "I do believe you've encapsulated my feelings for this book. An excellent review, very insightful."

Thank you very much! I've just seen you're following my reviews, and when I've got a moment I'm looking forward to reading yours too!

By the way, I have a review blog at http://calmgrove.wordpress.com which I've just started, if you're interested; mostly reviews I've already posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing so far.


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