A review by Nalini Haynes
So far the Green Rider series consists of 4 books: Green Rider, First Rider’s Call, The High King’s Tomb and Blackveil. Karigan G’ladeon is running away from boarding school in Selium because an aristocratic student used his connections to have her suspended after Karigan beat him in a sword fight. On the way home Karigan is nearly run down by a horse with a dying rider bearing an important message for the king. Karigan swears she will deliver the message, so she mounts the horse and changes course. The dead rider’s murders are in pursuit of the horse bearing the message in his saddle bags, so Karigan inherits the pursuit. After receiving notice that Karigan had been suspended, Stevic, Karigan’s father, travels to Selium. Upon arriving Stevic discovers that Karigan has been missing for some time. Stevic engages the services of the Green Riders, the king’s messenger service, to locate Karigan.
Sacoridia, the country in which Green Rider is set, has a medieval culture typical of much fantasy, but with a culture and political climate developed for this narrative. This includes the game Intrigue, which is much like chess except it can be played with either 2 or 3 players. Karigan is a poor Intrigue player, not understanding the prevalence of politics in real life and the benefits gained from committing to the game. Green Rider is a story of a teenager coming of age without the usual sexual connotations of that phrase, focusing more on learning to deal with the adult world of politics and intrigue.
A man in a grey cloak pursues Karigan after damaging the wall that protects Sacoridia from the neighbouring Blackveil Forest. This wall was built a thousand years ago with magic and stonecraft, built as a barrier for the forest and its inhabitants, both on land and in the air. Throughout the books the wall continues to be an issue, with the location of the breach and the towers in the wall becoming a significant setting. Each book concludes with some of the story threads resolved, but the background of the threat to the wall, combined with the threat of Blackveil Forest and Mornhaven (the supernaturally empowered villain) are still current.
Political games in Sacoridia continue throughout the books as a backdrop to the action, sometimes as dissociated from the ‘real world’ of Sacoridia as our own political parties’ games are to the real world. At other times the political games impact more directly on the action. The king, Zachary, becomes emotionally entangled with Karigan whilst choosing to enter into a marriage contract with Estora, the daughter of a powerful Lord-Governor, deeply affecting the characters involved. I thoroughly enjoyed the political and emotional games in Green Rider and First Rider’s Call, but in The High King’s Tomb I became concerned that it was veering too close to a soapie. Blackveil definitely becomes a soapie where Karigan and Zachary are concerned.
In the first two books magic does not come easily in Sacoridia, and incurs a cost on magic users. A big plus in my opinion, but in The High King’s Tomb and Blackveil this rule is somewhat mitigated with Karigan far exceeding her ‘normal’ magical ability. In the climax of The High King’s Tomb, Karigan goes beyond the human into the Mythic to a similar degree of Granny Weatherwax in some of the Discworld novels, and yet no extraordinary price seems to be exacted of her in this or the next novel. Terry Pratchett succeeds in his ‘Myffic’ flights of fantasy because he has set Discworld up to be a fantastical magical place, Granny Weatherwax is the Crone who is near death and near immortal simultaneously and, while Discworld revisits Granny, she is not the young central character of all the novels.
Britain began this series brilliantly. My reservations here are that she seems to be seeking to write an epic series based around one key central character and that character’s main love interest. Other characters are featured, but seem to step in and out of the narrative in order to provide more background and depth for what Karigan experiences and how their actions impact on Karigan’s world. The long running series I have enjoyed have not been so closely linked to one key character. For example, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series is wonderful, immersive and long running. In order to build such an extensive story, McCaffrey has introduced different characters as the central focus for different stories. I love the way she told the same story from different points of view, such as when we visit the same places and events but the scene is seen from a different character’s perspective. In many TV shows, the central character or two do the work of a team which becomes unrealistic and at times irritating, such as when the math genius in Numbers is knowingly taken into a dangerous situation by his brother. The TV shows that become real classics have a central group of people to sustain interest and avoid soapy-ism like Buffy, Firefly, and Babylon 5. Britain’s world is interesting, challenging, dangerous and has a wealth of characters from whose perspective she could tell her story. Having said all of this, Britain’s novels are still good fantasy. I don’t like to ‘grade’ novels, but to give a sense of perspective to my criticisms I will grade these (each out of 10 stars):
- Green Rider: 9 stars,
- First Rider’s Call: 8 stars,
- The High King’s Tomb: 7 stars,
- Blackveil: 6 stars.
As you can see from my grading, I’m more inclined to criticise something passionately if I really like it and think it could be truly excellent rather than ‘just’ better than average.
With a colourful, immersive world, engaging plot and interesting characters, Green Rider and First Rider’s Call are an excellent Wilde Ride for those who enjoy traditional fantasy. Both are highly recommended for readers who enjoy Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series and Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannarah. The High King’s Tomb and Blackveil are also recommended, but I hope that the series as it focuses on Karigan will be wrapped up soon, enabling Kristen to develop a new story in the remainder of her publishing contract.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.