Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

FIRST RIDER'S CALL

A novel by Kristen Britain (2003, DAW Fantasy)

As the threat from beyond the wall becomes more powerful, Karigan finds herself caught up in the past and the leadership of the Green Riders.

 

 

4 stars

Read June 7th to 23rd, 2010  
    It's been a while since I last saw Karigan. This outing was more earnest than the previous one, Green Rider. It was written a little better, as well, being the author's second novel. I quite enjoyed the book, and looked forward to returning to it night after night.

The writing was engaging, and very descriptive, and as such, it really captured the imagination, and made the world believable. It is a medieval world, with soldiers, clans, a king, and just a little bit of magic. The Green Riders use magic, as do the mysterious Elytians. But the rest of the human population is superstitious about it, and fears it. So where magic is concerned, everybody has to tread carefully, especially when the magic starts seeping through the breach in the wall, causing strange occurrences.

One of the main points in the last book was Karigan's resistance to being a Green Rider. She had her own wish for life, and that was to continue in the Merchant Clan, carrying on her father's business. She carried out her mission to her king and country, but after that, she hung up her Rider's robe, and vowed not to touch it again. So when this book opens, and she raced off to become a Rider in the first chapter, I was a little disappointed. The theme in this book does not carry on her resistance, although there is a lot of mention of her previous desire to avoid it. From the moment she races out of her home in her nightgown, she is entirely devoted to her calling.

Of course, the spirit of the First Rider, Lil Ambriothe, has something to do with that. She has a magical horn that causes the magic to stir in those gifted individuals, and it still works as a spirit. Karigan sees a lot of this spirit, off and on through the book. In addition to her disappearing ability, magnified by the brooch she shares with the First Rider, she now gains the ability to travel through time, although not willingly, due to the wild magic she picked up in the last book. So it manifests itself at various times throughout the book, which sets the stage for the quick conclusion and solution to the problem posed here.

We knew from the last book that evil magic possessed a forest outside the magical D'Yer Wall, but we weren't told anything about it then. This book is all about the magic beyond that wall. We get a history of the Long War, both through Kerigan's traveling, and the journal of Hadriax ex Fel, a man who accompanied the Prince of Arcosia from the great empire long ago. The Prince sought to bring glory to his father and the Arcosian empire by bringing back supplies in the form of lumber, slaves, and magic, all of which have been depleted in Arcosia. The history sounds a lot like the Europeans coming to America. At first the clans embrace them, but they turn against the Arcosians as their livelihoods are torn down around them, especially if they refuse to worship the Prince and the Emperor. The Prince, a powerful mage to begin with, brings war to the clans, and the mysterious Elt, magical people somewhat like elves, and precursors to the Elytians. As he meets with more resistance, he creates more powerful magical devices, which alienates many of his own people, whom he then puts to death. After he declares himself a god, Hadriax can't bear it anymore, and he defects to the other side, to give information to the Green Riders, and end the war. His powerful spirit is imprisoned in the Blackveil forest, ancient Elytian home that he usurped, and those of his lieutenants are imprisoned elsewhere.

In Kerigan's time, of course, they awaken. Most of the book doesn't deal with the evil spirits, except tangentially. Karigan struggles with the inconsistent functioning of her gift, as do all the Riders. She interacts with the various riders, a couple of nobles, and King Zachary. The book was written well enough that I saw the burgeoning love between the king and Karigan long before she realized it was there. The love story, as they saw their love awakening and couldn't do anything about it, she being a commoner, was actually wonderful to see. The book was long enough that it could develop over several sequences separated by many pages, making it seem more realistic. Of course, the book ties it up with a struggle and heartbreak. The king is finally forced to choose a bride, and he accepts one of the clan lord's daughters as a bride, though Lady Estora is not in love with him, nor he with her. It is a political arrangement, and it breaks Karigan's spirit, especially since they were something like friends. In fact, Karigan wears the brooch of Estora's dead love, from the first book. It did occur to me, before it was mentioned, that she might become his mistress -but she has too much pride for that.

In the meantime, the Captain of the Green Riders struggles to deal with her gift gone mad, and even contemplates suicide to stop it. I found this plot device a bit of a stretch, especially with the way it was concluded, which seemed a little convenient. The Captain was removed from the picture by the author so that Karigan could be forced to carry out some of her duties, go where she would otherwise not, and get close to the king. While I approve and really enjoyed the outcome, I found the reasons for the Captain's illness a bit contrived. During her time as one of the top riders, Karigan witnessed all sorts of strange magic intrusions, and the destruction of the Rider barracks. Because of an injury she received early in the book, as one of the spirits emerged from imprisonment, she is forced to practice with the arms master Drent, who whips her into shape and essentially beats on her, teaching her new techniques against her will, until she rebels. This was one of my favorite parts of the book, and like Mara, I wondered how long she would take the punishment. It's too bad there wasn't much of a follow-up.

It also seemed a rather convenient how the spirits could be so easily killed, one by fire, the other by decapitation. Are the spirits easier to destroy than the bodies were a thousand years ago? The way their spirits were imprisoned implied that they could not be killed at the time. Have they weakened so much over the years?

The Elytians show up for a little while, mysterious as ever, and probably setting up events for the next book. They don't contribute much to the current story, though I wondered if their prediction that Kerigan would help bring down the wall was due to the illusion of her helping Alton, or would come through her anger at the King for her heartbreak. But I doubt revenge is her style.

Alton, Karigan's friend and potential romance, is sent off to the wall, where he is pushed over the breach, and possessed briefly by Morhavon's spirit. He is taught a song that will bring down the wall, by an illusion of Karigan, though the illusion tells him that it will heal the wall. When Morhavon is defeated, Alton awakens to the enormity of what he was doing, and hates Karigan for it. Karigan is bewildered, even though the end of this book.

So how does Karigan defeat Morhavon? She and the spirit of Lil Ambriothe go into the Blackveil, allowing Morhavon to enter her mind. Then, she travels through time, into the future, stranding him there. It was an ingenious solution, though it happened so fast that I was at somewhat of a loss when it occurred. How far into the future he was sent, we don't know, but hopefully it will give Saccoridia enough time to prepare, and to increase the number of magic users to allow for his ultimate (I hope) defeat.

I love long books, and at just under 600 pages, this one held my interest all the way through, developing the characters and situations slowly, enjoyably. Though everybody rolled their eyes way too often, the writing was detailed enough, from old abandoned passages of the castle to the events in the Long War that Karigan witnesses, that it all came to life. I wasn't entrapped by the book, but I was always happy to return to it.

 
   

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