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Songs of the Earth - Elspeth Cooper

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Songs of the Earth - Elspeth Cooper

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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At January 12, 2012 at 8:15 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks Justin.

Had no idea there was a M/M romance in the novel, too. How does it compare to Richard Morgan in that regard?

At January 12, 2012 at 8:22 AM , Blogger GunMetalBlue said...

A very FAIR review, and I really do wish to read this book as well.

Oh yeah, and Elspeth is a badass name!

At January 12, 2012 at 10:07 AM , Anonymous Elspeth Cooper said...

A M/M romance? Er, no. Someone's misread something there.

At January 12, 2012 at 10:11 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

The original version of Justin's paragraph implied the romance was Gair/Alderan and didn't even mention there was a female character for Gair to romance...

At January 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM , Anonymous Elspeth Cooper said...

I wish I'd seen it! Still giggling over here in Blighty...

At January 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM , Blogger Aidan Moher said...

Very curious about this one. Thanks for the review, Justin.

At January 12, 2012 at 12:32 PM , Anonymous Bibliotropic said...

I've heard mixed reviews about this one, but I'm still quite excited to read it. I won a copy last year and sadly have not actually started it yet, but I know I'm going to be making the time soon to change that. I really hope I enjoy it as much as I think I will.

At January 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Justin said...

Sorry about the sexuality confusion. No M/M relationships. I just write bad sentences.

At January 15, 2012 at 1:22 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

I absolutely adored this book last year, I see where your niggles come from and I had some as well, but I was so swept up by the story and just the sheer joy I had reading this book that they didn't bother me as much as they might have otherwise. I do agree about the compellingness of the church scenes. I loved Ansel's story line and I hope to see more in the sequel. I know I can't wait to get my hands on Trinity Moon!


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