“When you aren’t committed to the outcome of the game, there is no way you can win.”
This book has been sitting unread on my shelf for quite a while now, and I feel very badly for not having cracked it open sooner; it was a very good read! The story follows a young woman named Karigan G’ladheon, fleeing her school after having been expelled for supposedly instigating and then taking part in a brawl. As she travels through the forest on her journey home she happens upon a young man with two black arrows sticking out of his back who is mortally wounded, and soon discovers that he’s a Green Rider: a messenger of the King. With his final breath, he requests that Karigan take the message that he was delivering to said King, but says that she must never read it. Pitying the dying man, and eager for an adventure of her own, she takes his horse (who is thereafter referred to as “Horse”) and sets out to complete this task, but very quickly realizes that her quest entails much more hardship and peril than she bargained for. With epic quests, mysterious ancient magic and political intrigue, Kristen Britain’s novel has all the hallmarks of a great classical fantasy adventure!
The basic premise of this novel felt very Tolkien-esque initially, as a young and generally unassuming protagonist is given the vital task of delivering something very important to its’ destination in the face of mortal danger. I am in no way saying that said derivative quality is a bad thing necessarily, however it was nice to see the story progressively form it’s own more unique identity as it went on and Karigan learned more about her world’s history, forgotten magic and politics. If you happen to have read any of my previous reviews, than you know that I always appreciate a novel that doesn’t dilly-dally in setting its’ hero on their quest, and I was very happy to see that that was the case in this book. Unfortunately, the pacing in the first half felt a bit slow at times, however, things really picked up in its’ latter half.
Karigan also served as a great protagonist. She was brave, tough, curious, and at times brash (to her own detriment), but she was also reasonably frightened and emotional when the situation called for it. I appreciated that she didn’t just suddenly transform from inexperienced high-born school girl to hardened badass battle chick when she began her quest, and said vulnerability made her very easy to relate to and root for. And let me tell you, I became very emotionally attached to “Horse” the horse just by the isolated nature of her journey. Him and Karigan truly relied on one-another and as silly as it sounds, he was a great character, showing consistent bravery, intelligence and attitude. This novel also had a strong and diverse supporting cast, ranging from the quirky Berry Sisters who house Karigan during her quest, to the deliciously conniving Prince Amilton who seeks to reclaim his birthright to the throne that was given to his more competent and level-headed younger brother Zachary. I wouldn’t say that any of these characters were amazing necessarily, but they all did a more than adequate job at fulfilling their respective roles in a traditional fantasy adventure such as this and were all generally very enjoyable.
As an introductory novel to a larger series, this book did a great job at giving the reader small glimpses into larger elements of its’ world, including it’s magical races, ancient wars and greater dormant evil forces which are all sure to play a more significant role in the following installments of this series. It gave you just enough information to keep you intrigued but not so much as to spoil the underlying element of mystery or rely on large expository dumps. The world building all felt very organic in how it presented itself, and while it was fairly simple by epic fantasy standards, it was still very interesting as I read it.
So if you are in the market for a classic style of fantasy adventure following a reluctant hero on their quest, then I would definitely recommend this book! The overall narrative experience gave me a pleasant feeling of nostalgia for older fantasy novels and I will be sure to pick up it’s sequel in the future. 4/5