Justin's Reviews > Songs of the Earth

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper
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Oct 28, 2011

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bookshelves: 2012-release, 2012-debut, epic, fantasy, female-author, macmillan, read-2012
Read from January 06 to 11, 2012


I've read some crazy good debuts over the last twelve months, including two of the best novels I read last year.  It's not the norm, however, for a debut author to spring forth like Athena, fully grown and ready to kick some ass.  And Elspeth Cooper's (can we agree that Elspeth is a cool name?) Songs of the Earth is more the norm, a well conceived and well written novel that suffers from debut hiccups.

Cooper's protagonist is Gair, a holy-knight-in-training who's been exiled and branded by the Church for witchcraft. Starved and battered, he finds help from a mysterious man who can teach him to control the magical song in his mind.  The man, Alderan, is a member of an ancient order of Guardians, charged with protecting the barrier between the world and something akin to Hell.  What follows is the 'magical school' plot device that's so widely applied across the genre, and for the most part it's well done, although the focus remains more on Gair's romance with an older woman than education.

While Gair's journey is the primary story line, other plots are afoot, including Church politicking as Preceptor Ansel prepares for a coming conflict.  Coming conflict I say?  Can I provide more details?  Well, not really, which caused some consternation.  Maybe Cooper is being too subtle, or maybe I'm dense, but Ansel spends a great deal of time researching, plotting, and executing (maybe?) something.  460 pages later, it's not clear at all what that is.  I might have a guess about the ultimate goal, but the methods he's laying out to accomplish them?  I've got nothing.

For me, Ansel's sequences were far more compelling than Gair's.  Populated by interesting characters with blurred morality,  it's unfortunate they function more like an extended epilogue, as none of it felt relevant to the main arc. Of course, it whet my appetite for the next book, the obvious intent, but interspersing it throughout the novel slows the narrative, leading to a novel with inconsistent pace.

There is one other niggle that bears mentioning.  A moment occurs about halfway through the novel where Gair demonstrates a capability with no groundwork to support it.  It seemingly comes out of nowhere and somewhat impeaches what is in my mind a tremendous first half of a novel.  In fact, had I written this review based solely on the preceding pages, I would be stringing together a series of superlatives.  All of which goes to say, Cooper absolutely has the talent to succeed.

Despite some bumps in the road, I found Songs an enjoyable read.  The characters are well drawn, some exceptionally so (Alden), and Cooper demonstrates a knack for believable dialogue.  Her descriptive prose flows well especially in action sequences where her familiarity with swordplay is apparent.  Also, some of the novel's most impressive moments come in the aforementioned romance.  What could have come off awkward and stilted, always felt sweet and natural.

Given what I know about Cooper, and what she's shown in Songs of the Earth, I have a strong feeling the Wild Hunt series will be more well regarded as a whole, than the first installment on its own.  Numerous fantasy series have started slow before catching fire.  With a little more polish and experience,  I can see Elspeth Cooper doing just that.
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01/07/2012 page 120
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by ambyr (new)

ambyr I appreciate that your reviews, though way more inclined to focus on the positive than mine, always give me the info to know whether or not I'm likely to find a given book worth looking at.

Justin Thanks. I mean I try to focus on reasons people will want to read it, but try to mention the things I know some others just won't be able to get past.

And at least you know if I REALLY don't like it, I won't shy away from bringing out the fake interview hammer. haha

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