Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Singing by Alison Croggon

It's done. And I am pleased to report that the ending of this series was satisfying enough that the series remains one of my favourite reads of the year, possibly of several years. Some of my readers may have noticed, when I take to a book, I take to it hard. I am buying this series. In hardback. And I am going to cherish it, and re-read it, and lend it out to friends. Then I'm going to re-read it again. And again. And I am going to love it more each time, I suspect.

If you want a very brief summary of what the series is about, check out the review for the first book. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, what can I say in general about The Singing in particular? Well, first of all, it wasn't as intense as The Crow. Of all the books in the series, that one remains elevated above the other three as an indisputable, shining, relentless work of art. But as an ending, The Singing was creative and engaging, sometimes surprising and thoroughly satisfying.

Permit me one small gripe, however, if you will: I think many of the emotional character arcs were finished slightly too quickly. Not glaringly so, but I could have used a little more time to resolve some relationships and get a feel for the changes and personal epiphanies each character experienced. I have no trouble with the results of those changes; I found them believable, but we see them complete, not getting worked out. Everything felt just slightly too brief to do the characters I've grown to love justice.

I have absolutely no illusions about how difficult writing this sort of thing can be, after the climax of the action, and perhaps there was no way to end the book as gracefully. But I almost felt as if the characters distanced themselves from me as the book ended, so there was no painful wrench as I closed the book. I wanted that sweet pain and I missed it. But endings are very hard, and really, this one ended in style. Exciting, chilling, and beautiful. Enough loose ends to make me happy.

As a quick aside, a caveat: if you're like me, and like your endings mostly open-ended, don't read the Appendix. I knew I shouldn't have read it. I'm now going to do my best to forget it, because I want the characters to live their lives in my imagination. It's Croggon's prerogative to end it that way, but I should know better by now than to read Appendices.

One more thing I can talk about without spoilers is the difference between Maerad and Hem, our two main characters. One of the reasons I liked The Crow so much was that I think the world of Hem. He reads like a little brother I'd love to hug (and the kid needs a few hugs). I found Hem easier to engage with than Maerad, I think largely because of something Maerad does in book two, The Riddle (beware spoilers behind that link), and also because she spends a lot of time in The Riddle being a very moody teenager. And while I can sympathize with a moody teenager, I did find Maerad a little harder to empathize with. Further, by the time we get to The Singing, she is increasingly powerful and increasingly almost inhuman, and so I think the distance I feel from her is very appropriate. She is a wonderful character, and I am very fond of her; but it was Hem I could relate to the most.

This is the strength of Alison Croggon's characterizations: each of her characters, particularly those who are mains but also fleeting characters, are crystal-clear and different. They provoke different reactions from the reader, despite some of them being archetypes, despite some of them being on the page for less than a chapter. They inspire tenderness or anger, fear or interest. I'm extremely impressed with how vivid they are.

I'm a little afraid to start reading anything tonight. I'm afraid I'll be disillusioned or unfairly frustrated with whatever I read next. I've got a great series afterglow.

Again, thank you so much to Darla for introducing me to Alison Croggon and The Books of Pellinor. It's been a wonderful gift.


Jill said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this series all the way through! I am still only halfway through it - I love it so much I don't want to finish it too quickly. I completely agree that her characters are just wonderfully done. I brought #3 home from the library the other day and hope to get to it soon.

Unknown said...

Darla - I'm very keen to see what you think of The Crow. I was so completely blown away by it, but I always worry that's just because of my mood at the time of reading (although it took me over a week to read it, because I kept having to stop and then start again). The whole series is fantastic, but the third book is just stellar.

Jill said...

I'm glad to hear that. Now I'm extra anxious to get to it soon!