GREEN RIDERA novel by Kristen Britain
(1998, Daw books)
Green Rider, book 1
A young woman is hunted as she attempts the deliver the message of a dead rider to the king before an assassination attempt.
-- First reading (paperback)
While a little derivative at the beginning and at the end, the book was interesting enough, and exciting enough, with smart characters and dialog.Spoiler review:
I liked Karigan. Unfortunately, the beginning of the book really doesn't give her a lot of smarts. By doing so, I assume the author wanted to give her room to grow, but it makes her look inept, even though we are told she was a promising student at a prestigious school.
Karigan doesn't ask a lot of questions. She allows herself to be led around, barely saying a word when she meets, for example, the Berry sisters. Neither does she hurry on her way. She seems way too absorbed by the luxuries she was missing out on, than getting her mission completed. As a character, I expected her to ask these women who they were first off, and not accept their bath right away, or let them near the message she carried.
The entire first half of the book is nothing more than a journey story. The author credits Tolkien as inspiration at the beginning, and there is a lot that resembles The Lord of the Rings in this book, especially on her journey. There is the brooch that makes her invisible, bringing her partly into the spirit world and sapping her strength and energy. Then we have gift-giving magic users, and a somewhat unbreachable sanctuary. Later in the book, she is poisoned by an ancient evil, and rescued by an eagle, then rested and tended to by an elf-like person (the Eletian) until she was well enough to ride on. Still on her journey, she also meets a Tom Bombadil-like figure, in the forester. There seem to be a lot of small hideaways that the evil people don't know about, where the Green Riders could rest for a while.
Of course, the journey itself was really just an excuse to show off the world, and in that it worked quite well. There were all sorts of things that set this world apart from any other fantasy world. Still, things were familiar enough. The concept of a world that has mostly abandoned magic is not new, and neither is a sect or two that could still use it, unknown to the general population. The Green Riders serve as messengers to the King, each one possessing a unique gift. Karigan's allows her to turn invisible, with the help of her brooch.
She doesn't know why she is being chased, and even though we get to see some things from the point of view of the enemies, we are not entirely clear, either. Karigan, it turns out, is simply running away from school, where she was expelled for fighting the son of a noble, who turns out to be the king's nemesis, though he doesn't know it yet. On her way home, she encounters F'ryan Cobblebay, a Rider nearly dead, carrying a very important message for the King. She makes a binding promise to carry the message onwards, even though she knows she will be hunted.
I wonder how many times Karigan actually had to tell her tale. I can understand about the Forester, especially as imposing as he was. But the Berry sisters didn't require it, and then she tells Captain Mapstone, the King, her father, and who knows how many others. I can't see that being very practical, since she trusts everybody all at once. Karigan was first written as by an inexperienced writer. I enjoyed much more the people who were professionals, like her father, or the other Green Riders. Karigan, being the reluctant hero, had to be screamed at (by me) to bring along some common sense, which she developed later in the book.
One thing that was written well on her journey was her capture. Not realizing the importance of her brooch, she takes it off, so can't use it when she is attacked. Later, when the mercenary ends up being alone with her, it is obvious that he will try to take advantage of the situation. When he does, I wondered how far the author was going to let him get -not far, as it turns out. I always love it when a potential rapist gets his due, and this time was no different. It makes her even more sympathetic to Mel later when the girl is in the same situation.
Jenara, however, I likened to Gollum as soon as Karigan spared her life. I knew she would appear again near the end, and help her in her deepest need. From that end, things were a little too predictable. Also predictable was the spy in the Mirwell household. Since Beryl was such a trusted aide, she was the obvious choice. After she is ensnared by the Shadow Man, however, I lost interest in her. It was also obvious that the "small remnant" of the spell would come into play again. Beryl should have killed Mirwell immediately, and not let him in sight of the King -she knew that he possessed the words to enslave.
I hate it when spells are broken "just in time" for our heroes to survive; in this case Captain Mapstone doesn't receive the death blow because of Karigan's battle with the Eletian, and presumably again later, in the throne room. It removes some of the respect I have for them, and it's like saying that the magic of the D'Yer Wall should have failed after its creators died. Not true.
I expected Karigan's mission to end about halfway through the book, and was not disappointed about that. I liked her Wild Ride, which was very exciting. I wish that was part of her gift, being able to slow down her time, so that she could defeat her enemies without requiring so much skill. Alas, I think it was the dead that gave her that power, and won't be coming again.
Which makes it even less believable that Karigan could defeat the Shadow Man- the evil Eletian -in combat. That was the one true surprise in this novel -I certainly wasn't expecting the Shadow Man to be one of them. But he was supposed to be so skilled, and I don't believe the Moonstone should have added to her skill so much. It seemed to attack Shawdell relentlessly on its own. If this was the case, the powers of Good would not need an army, simply a few Moonstones would be sufficient to defeat an army of Evil. I hate it when Evil is so overwhelmingly powerful, but it is just as bad when Good has too much power.
The second half of the book had some really enjoyable politics. We don't know how much the King knows, or who is the traitor in his hall, at least until he goes out on the Hunt. I enjoyed the councilors bickering, especially when they consistently put their feet in their mouths!
The battle on the King's Hunt was rather ambiguous, as well. Did the nine Green Riders and select Weapons actually kill all those groundmites? I think the terrier dogs probably did their part, but barely got a mention. Like Mirwell, I want to know how they did it, though I suppose he watched the whole thing.
The espionage and retaking of the castle by the rightful King Zachary was well-managed, but still held to many clichés, like a "fair fight". Zachary's brother and Shawdell merged, and began killing people who didn't promise loyalty. Karigan's father, looking for his missing daughter, is among those, but since he is a merchant, he is not deemed as important as the nobles.
The plan to retake the castle was fun to read about, but didn't really make sense. Why go through the front gates faking carrying the head of the King, with a traitor (even if he has a knife to the throat)? Everybody should have gone with the King, and they should have killed Mirwell for treason right away.
When Amilton/Shawdell grow even more powerful, Karigan intervenes to save the King, growing invisible. Since Amilton couldn't see her, she should have killed him right away, instead of becoming visible to save her father. That way she could have done both at the same time.
Eventually, she learns, though, when she is in the nether-world. She refuses to accept Shawdell's challenge at the game of Intrigue to win her way back to the real world. Instead, she finally destroys the board. I thought she would have sliced Shawdell, also. But she returns to the world, and is able to destroy the link between Amilton and the evil Eletian (gaining another Tolkien moment when she gets a wound that won't heal). It is Jenara, of course, who kills Amilton, her master, proving Karigan's sympathy correct.
I was also surprised by the ending of this book. I really liked the fact that Karigan decided to keep to her word that she would not join the Green Riders, and decides to remain a merchant, like her father. Since Shawdell is probably still alive, the wall that keeps the evil things out of the land is still collapsing, the anti-Monarchy League is still around, and Karigan still feels the pull of the hoofbeats, I expect a sequel to show up eventually. I certainly wouldn't mind continuing this story, in this world. Even if nothing follows this, I would be happy, for it cleaned up so many of its plot threads that it doesn't desperately need a sequel.
Any future books would probably be more mature in writing style. As expected, when the author started this book, it was difficult to capture the characters perfectly, giving them a natural-feeling life. As the book went on, it got better and better, lapsing only for a short while every now and then. The politics were written much better than the journey, though both were enjoyable in their own way. At times, it seemed that we were getting too much information at a time, which started to feel like exposition. Fortunately, that didn't last long.
The story, however, was a good one, and held up even when the author lapsed. For a first novel, this is a very impressive book. Yes, it can use some work, but that only comes with time and experience, and it grew as the pages went on.
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