As I write this I have one of those irritating colds that flares up at night, leaving me to lie in bed pondering all sorts of things, like whether or not I really need lungs. Last night the coughing was bad enough that I had to go downstairs and sleep on the pull out couch. This is new, and therefore still a fun novelty, like building a fort in the living room and sleeping in it overnight. But I still couldn't sleep for coughing, so I read.
Or that's my excuse, anyway.
What I find most telling about Alison Croggon's storytelling capacity is that though I found the first couple of chapters of The Riddle to be tiresome recap and clumpsy exposition, I still kept with the book. And once the "last time in Maerad's life" bit was over, the storytelling took over again and I was enthralled. She still walks the thin edge between "that's unbelievable" and "that's almost unbelievable," setting up some pretty amazing magic and plot events well before they happen, making for tremendously exciting reading. Although there were a few points where I slipped a little bit past the almost-unbelieving to pretty-much-unbelieving in this book, which didn't happen in the first book. And (this is my last gripe) there was one plot hole that was big enough for me to notice it even as I galloped through the pages, which... well, it was unfortunate and a bit frustrating, but I forgave it because it was necessary for the story to unfold the way it did. Keeping the metaphor alive: though I was brought up short, I gathered myself, trotted around the gaping plot hole, shook my head at the maintenance crews, and proceeded to gallop on.
I guess, although I hate to do this, I should warn that I might not be able to avoid spoilers for the first book in the following paragraphs.
In this book, Maerad and Cadvan have escaped Norloch and are off on the next leg of their quest: finding the Treesong. Maerad is confirmed as the Chosen One, a fact that still sits very uncomfortably with her, but she reluctantly shoulders it and keeps moving ahead with help from Cadvan and the few other Bards and civilians they can trust. Ardina, the Elemental, makes a number of those almost-but-not-quite deus ex machina appearances, and we're left wondering at her motivation but trusting her because Maerad does. And Maerad. Poor Maerad. She is in pretty deep trouble: depressed, moody, frightened, confused and furious -- in other words, a typical sixteen-year-old girl. But she's crushed under a very atypical amount of pressure, and cracks are starting to show. This is very bad news, because Maerad is also possessed of a very atypical amount of raw power to do with as she will. And part of what is so interesting and refreshing about Maerad as a character is that she doesn't always do the right thing.
There was one point where Maerad did something that almost lost me entirely. I was so shocked and horrified that I almost put the book down, and that feeling didn't stop for several pages. A testament to Croggon's writing, again, that I didn't, and that I could still find sympathy for Maerad. Also, I have to admit, I was impressed with Croggon's bravery in having her main character -- the character we're supposed to sympathize with -- do something so far outside sympathy. It made me sit back and realize that despite my empathy for Maerad, I didn't completely understand her. So when she said "No one understands me!" I believed her. I wasn't impressed with her, I thought she was being childish and selfish and dangerously in denial; but she grows up a lot over the course of this book. And I hope some of that sticks with her, because I do find reading about Maerad's angst to be difficult -- I've been there, I've done that, and I'm glad it's over, and it's hard not to want to give Maerad a good shaking and tell her to get over it.
The thing with a good hefty epic series like this is that I am now halfway through and feeling both good and bad about that. I will be relieved when it is over and I know what has happened. I will be sad, too, because I don't like it when things end. Reading something like this is an undertaking, and can almost be gruelling because the length allows the reader to invest more in the characters, feel more for the characters, and become comfortably (or uncomfortably) wrapped up in the plot. It weighs on me a little. I think about this story in the shower. I want it to end so I can have my own thoughts back, but I don't because it's such a wonderful experience, being so taken with a story. I haven't felt like this for a while.
Next is The Crow and I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of Hem (Maerad's brother) and their friend Saliman, if the preview chapter is any indication. I'm kind of mixed on that. I'm always reluctant to leave main characters behind and let them do their own thing while focussing on other characters, but the little we've seen of Hem makes me like him, and I'm looking forward to spending time with him.
Much thanks again to Darla for introducing me to this series!