Dyslexia in Fantasy

Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog, the unexpected hero.  However the truly unexpected hero of Spellwright is Blake Charlton, the author.  I don’t know how bad “severe dyslexia” is, but the fact that he wrote a novel is impressive.  It’s not a perfect book, but most aren’t.  Still, I respect that he was able to do so, and in a fashion that is a very different take on fantasy.

In the world of Spellwright, magic is done with words.  Not strange words that must be pronounced, but text.  A spell can be a simple sentence or many paragraphs and hundreds of thousands of words.  The words are crafted from runes that the spellwright produces within their body.  I’m not entirely clear on how that works, just that spellwrights tend to bare their arms to write, though they can use just about any muscles in their bodies.  The implication is that there is some form of physical movement going on.

There are many different magical languages in use.  Some languages are primarily for physical use and others for mental use, so a construct would be made up of both types in order for it to react and move.  There’s also more specialized languages, such as one used only by pyromancers to, well, set things on fire.  There’s also the Language Prime.  It is the most powerful of all magical languages, and the conflict in this series is essentially to be able to use Language Prime while the other side can’t.

Language Prime is where the concepts for Spellwright really grip me.  For you see, Language Prime consists of only four runes.  Four three dimensional hexagonal runes that define everything and everyone.  Anything living is composed of Language Prime.

Essentially, Language Prime is DNA.

Now, magic that is capable of affecting people on creatures on such a level is hardly new.  But the fact that magical language is just that, language, and that DNA is a language that can be used the same way as others?  That is utterly fascinating to me. Of course, the knowledge of Language Prime is rare, and it’s part of why the protagonist is important.  He is, by birth, a legacy of the old Imperial Family which had an inborn knowledge of Language Prime.  But the family was broken and scattered centuries ago when humans fled the ancient land to their present homes.  Now the ancient land is filled only with demons who would love to escape their prison.

But very little of this is known to and understood by Nicodemus Weal as the story begins.  He’d mostly just like to achieve the rank of Lesser Wizard, no mean feat for a boy like him.  He is dyslexic, though the book uses the term “cacographer.”  Not only is he prone to misspelling words by mixing up his runes, but his very touch can misspell whatever he’s in contact with.  Dyslexia is not uncommon, as Nicodemus is just one of several cacographers in the magic academy.

It’s explained later in the book that the two spell languages that we deal with for most of the book, Numinous and Magnus, are illogical languages.  Contrast this with Wrixlan and Pithan, which are logical.  Essentially, the first two have spelling much like English; it doesn’t have to make sense to be right or wrong.  The second two are always spelled the way they sound.  The contrast is where my mind is blown.

I’ve never really thought about how dyslexia works in languages other than English. I’m only partially fluent in one other, and that’s Hebrew.  Hebrew does have a wildly different alphabet than English, and yes, some letters do resemble each other or differ only by the placement of a dot.  (Though the dots and such aren’t always used…but I’m not even going to get into that.)  The point is, I don’t know how common dyslexia is in langauges that are far less bastardized than English, nor if there are any truly “logical” languages in our world in which it’s impossible to misspell if you write it how it sounds.

As you can see, I find the entire concept of language as magic to be rather compelling, and given that the rest of the book is solidly average for fantasy, this is almost certainly what keeps me reading.  There’s nothing wrong with Spellwright and it’s far from the worst first book I’ve ever read, but it’s not great either.  It wouldn’t be anything special if not for the magic system and I do appreciate that.

The other books I’ve read that make a point of dyslexia are Rick Riordan’s, but his approach is different.  Most of his Greek demigods in particular have dylsexia, but in their case it’s because they instinctively understand Ancient greek.  It’s a perfectly logical explanation for his world, but it lacks the depth and understanding that Charlton presents.

And then there’s JourneyQuest, by Dead Gentlemen and Zombie Orpheus Entertainment.  That would be a webseries available on youtube.  The wizard there is also dyslexic, but in a very different way.  His spells not only tend to fail because of it, they tend to have the polar opposite result of what he meant to do.  It’s another different way to present dyslexia, and one I think worth mentioning.  Also JourneyQuest is pretty funny and I love ZOE productions.  So, that’s my plug for the day.

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The Haunted Living Room

One trend in urban fantasy is that of Guardians, whether in name or in deed, who protect the vast majority of us poor, ignorant rubes from the fact that magic is real, and so is a great deal of other stuff that might just blow our minds.  Magic in these books takes on many forms, as dictated by the whims and preferences of the author.  The Guardians, by Lynn Abbey, is just one of many ways to approach the subject.

The Guardians sees Annalise Brown (but please, call her Lise) hunting for an apartment and she happens upon 647 Riverside Drive in New York City.  The previous inhabitant died on Halloween, during a police raid on what the neighbors believed to be an orgy or some sort of drug cult.  In the ten days since then, a number of people have looked at the place, but claimed it had “bad vibes” and could not be convinced to rent for love of money or anything else.

There’s nothing really wrong with the place of course.  Just a nigh-literal portal to Hell in the living room.  Oh, and whoever moves in is pretty much going to be the new High Priest or Priestess of the coven responsible for sealing said Rift shut.  Every year.  On Samhain.

Lise, of course, is a nonbeliever.  She’s the standard American who isn’t particularly religious in one way or another, though her family nominally celebrates the major Christian holidays like you do.  She can believe that there is Something Wrong in her living room, because she really doesn’t have a choice in the matter, but the book is about her journey to understand what the Rift is and to accept that not only must she understand Wicca but lead her own coven to seal the damned thing.

This book was published back in 1982, some thirty-five years ago, and while much of the world is unchanged since then, there were some things that stood out to me.  Particularly the separation of black and white people.  It’s not segregation, but it seems that either there wasn’t nearly as much attempt for racial equality in fiction portrayals or that people tended to segregate themselves moreso then.  That white groups didn’t really hire blacks, and that blacks tended to patronize their own instead of resorting to whites.  It’s not something I really want to bring up or emphasize, but the way that black and white are mentioned in the book tends to send off alerts in my mind as I read.

I can’t simply ignore it either, since one of the mysterious figures is Baron Samedi himself.  He is portrayed as a mysterious and elegant black gentleman who carries a walking cane topped with a red-eyed skull.  He seems to be a loa that takes over and uses the bodies of mortals, though it’s never clear if he can choose anyone he pleases and reshape them to his purposes or if he must choose from amongst his followers or something else like that.  If I remember correctly, by the by, a loa is one of the good voodoun spirits, but please don’t take my word for it.  I don’t read a huge number of books concerning voodoun and am no expert.

It’s been a long time since I last read The Guardians, and I believe this is the first time I’ve revisited the novel.  It’s…a lot more bizarre than I remember it.  I remembered the basic concept well enough and even some lines almost word-for-word.  But some of the events (or Phenomena as Lise refers to them) are just…not at all what I recall.  Did I block them out?  Did I read too fast last time?  Did I just…overlook them because some are kind of uncomfortable to read?  I honestly couldn’t tell you, as I’m pretty sure it’s been a decade since I last read the book.

Would I recommend The Guardians to someone?  Well…maybe.  I mean, there are so many worse books out there to read.  And it’s got some interesting ideas that I don’t see showing up too much.  But it is somewhat dated and the weird racist undertones emphasize that age.  It is not a great book.  I’m not sure it’s a good book.  But it’s certainly an acceptable book and one I’ll continue to keep.

People are Greedy and Heartless

My Book of the Month selection for April is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.  It is nonfiction, and the author David Grann apparently spent a good five years or more compiling primary sources of all kinds to portray a story, and a horrific one.  One that I had never heard of before.

Before I get into the book itself, let’s back up and start with what I knew going in.  The Osage are one of the many tribes that lived in this land before the coming of Europeans.  Their reservation is in Oklahoma.  This is also the tribe that Jennifer Talldeer belongs to in Sacred Ground by Mercedes Lackey.  But I have to think that Lackey knows nothing of the events detailed in Killers of the Flower Moon else there would be a very different tone to her book.  (And yes, most of my posts have to mention Lackey in some way, shape, or form.  Sorry.)

It seems that when the Osage were being forced to move in the 1870s, they chose a hilly country in what would later be Oklahoma, reasoning that white farmers wouldn’t want that land.  And because a rainbow sheen had been discovered on a small body of water, the controlling language of their land was such that anything beneath the earth would be the property of tribe members only, a headright as it became known.  So in the 1920s, the Osage were the richest people in the country with oil money from the deep wells beneath their land.  What’s unsurprising is that unscrupulous individuals are willing to kill for that money.

It was called the Reign of Terror, and seemed to run from 1921-1925, ending in one of the FBI’s first big investigations.  This was national news and I had never once heard of it before!  Admittedly, I am no history buff, but it’s rather unsettling to realize how effectively something so major has been forgotten.  My reaction was apparently mirrored by David Grann, prompting him to delve into the years of research which produced this book.

Grann sifted through years of documentation to distill what was a sensational story buried under the moniker of “everyday life” into something comprehensive and succinct.  There are three sections to the tale: first, that of Mollie Burkhart and how she seemed to be central to the murders.  Second, that of Tom White, the head of the FBI investigation team who managed to arrest, convict, and see the ringleaders in Burkhart’s case brought to justice.  The last section was the surprise.  It was excerpts from Grann’s own tale of investigation.  Not only that, but he managed to dig deep enough to see that what the nation though to be the end of the Osage Murders was simply the most widely known part.

It’s not surprising.  Fullblooded Osage, and others of partial blood, were considered by white men to be incapable of handling their own money and so were appointed guardians who controlled their literal fortunes.  The ever-valuable headrights to the oil money could not simply be transferred out of the tribe, especially not to strangers, but could be inherited.  And then there were insurance scams on such a brazen scale that it makes some of today’s practitioners look cowardly and overly cautious.  Grann found evidence that the Reign of Terror lasted more than a dozen years in all, and it has left a lasting mark on the tribe today.  Not a single family was untouched, and the killers showed no mercy to any victim, regardless of age or gender.  Some were gunned down, some were poisoned, some were elaborately trapped with methods like faulty brakes.  One pair was blown up in their own house.

And yet, despite all this horror that was clearly committed, very few people outside those connected to the murders remember that it happened.

I go back to Sacred Ground as proof and comparison.  Jennifer Talldeer and her family are not actually registered Osage tribe members, having lived among whites by choice when all that was going on.  This means their life had been easier in some ways, but they never got any reparation money when it finally came through.  That’s almost a direct quote, for the record.  No mention of oil money, no mention of murders for that money.  I cannot imagine that the Osage Murders would have gone unmentioned if Lackey was aware of them.  Considering that the Talldeer have been shamans for generations, they likely would have felt responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the tribe in such a dark time.  Which means that an author who I assume to have a better-than-passing-familiarity with Native Americans and lives in Oklahoma in the next county over, knows next to nothing about a relatively dark chapter in local history.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that all of this happened is horrid.  That white settlers arranged things for people they consider to be “lesser” and “primitive” to be utterly helpless even when they are the richest people around, and then coldbloodedly killed them for that money is absolutely disgusting.  I’m glad that David Grann’s book will help to shed some light on that dark period for the Osage, and help to improve reparations and apologies owed to them and many other First Nations groups.

It’s hard to judge nonfiction the say way I do fiction.  Was this a good read?  Well, I can’t say it’s enjoyable to read about awful events, but it was well-written.  Did I like it?  I think I’m a little better person, a little more aware person, for reading it.  I am very glad that I chose Killers of the Flower Moon this month, and I hope that Book of the Month continues this streak for me.

Earth Day

As of breakfast this morning, I still hadn’t decided what novel to read next.  After all, I still had some recovery and cleaning left after having company.  But I did want something to read with my first meal of the day…and I realized it was Earth Day.  So, perhaps something somewhat related to that.  Thus I grabbed an old children’s book off the shelf.  This is The First Forest, written by John Gile and illustrated by Tom Heflin.

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I’ve had this book for close to thirty years, and it is one that I’ve never forgotten.  The colored pencil illustrations are lovely, and it was signed by the author back in 1990, making it the first signed book I actually owned.  I also remember playing a game with this – Tom Heflin included his signature in each of the illustrations, and so I’d go and find them all.  (This wasn’t very hard.  They tend to be in the same spot every time.  But you try telling seven-year-old me that.)

Now, it’s my understanding that this is not an especially well-known children’s book, so I can imagine that most people don’t know the story.  It’s actually less related to Earth Day than you might expect, given how I started this post.  Sure, it’s about a forest and trees, but it’s not about conservation or pollution or anything like that.  This is a fable of why we have deciduous trees.

Essentially, the moral of the book is to not be selfish, greedy, or harmful to others.  A perfectly good message for any children’s book.  Also I have always been amused by the image of trees wearing bandages and splints.  It’s a classic in my library, and will remain so.

As for my next novel of choice, I think it may be this month’s Book of the Month.  So far, for those keeping track, there’s been one I absolutely despised and two that I really enjoyed.  Since Book of the Month offers a choice of five books (or skipping the month and therefore extending the subscription by a month), it may just be that I chose wrongly that one time.  I guess we’ll have to see what happens this month!

Comics!

I may have watched Youtube videos during dinner last night, but I wasn’t about to do that again this morning over breakfast.  I simply had to find something to read, despite the fact that I didn’t want to commit to choosing my next book or series yet.  Then I remembered that I’d taken advantage of having last Friday off to stop by the comic shop and pick up Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #13.  That, plus the couple issues preceeding it, sounded like a good way to entertain me whilst I ate.  So I reread issues 11 & 12 and went into the new one.

Why is it that, when you have alternate timelines, one of the main characters is always dead?  It seems to always be that way.  I mean, the last alternate timeline I read also involved going almost two hundred years into what would have been the future, so most of the people in previous books were dead anyway.  Which at least makes sense.  Bah, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what the tropes of time travel and alternate timelines are, the authors will do as they please regardless of my opinions.

I had noted that, at the end of the Bulk & Skull comic at the back of issue 12, it said “The End.”  Well, if that was the end of Bulk and Skull’s mini story, would there be another such thing hiding at the back of issue 13?  Indeed, there was.  However the focus has shifted to the other side in the epic battle and the main characters of this mini story are the much abused Baboo and Squatt.  They are Rita’s two most incompetent minions, and as such, perfect for this kind of comic relief.

Unfortunately, that’s all for today, as I spent the rest of my time having a (gasp) social life!

Gripping Content

Green Rider is an amazingly enthralling series.  I most definitely could have finished Firebrand in a single day as I did Mirror Sight, but I didn’t want to lose out on sleep two weeknights in a row.  It’s only about thirty pages longer, you see.  But so amazingly engrossing!

The book is, as I mentioned, titled Firebrand, which I understood to mean that King Zachary would be one of the key characters this volume.  Firebrand is, after all, how the Eletians choose to address him.  The firebrand itself is the symbol of Sacoridia as a country, so it makes sense that the word can be a title for the ruler.  So we are told that King Santanara of Eletia addressed King Jonneus Sealender, the first High King of the Sacor Clans.  Kind of makes me wonder the thought process in choosing the firebrand as an emblem.  Then again, it was the thread of Mornhavon the Black which caused the Sacor Clans to unite and choose a king, so I suppose a firebrand is an appropriate symbol of their rebellion against the rule he would force upon them.

Karigan, on the other hand, is still recovering from the injuries her heart and soul suffered in Mirror Sight.  Her old problems with Zachary haven’t gone away, but things with the Black Shields have progressed.  And then there’s Queen Estora, making some interesting changes hand-in-hand with Laren Mapstone.

I would say that Firebrand sees Karigan settling in with the changes she’s experienced, learning what she can do and how to control what abilities she possesses.  The plot itself drives her to accept who and what she is, and become a stronger person for it.  Oh sure, the series continues on around this central story and there is development and change.  New characters being introduced, old ones returning, people falling in love…and that’s on the “people” side of things.  We also learn more about Eletians as a species and the world as a whole.  Fascinating stuff, really.

I suspect the next book will have a focus on the ancient allies uniting and coming together as they haven’t truly yet.  Oh sure, the Eletians keep popping up now and again (and buying out a particular chocolatier in Sacor City when they do), but it’s clear that they are not fully trusted, especially because they keep many secrets.  The Eletians know much more about Sacoridia than Sacoridians know of Eletia, a point that is raised several times throughout this book.  Karigan may have a better understanding of them than most, but that doesn’t mean she knows very much at all.

There’s not much more I really want to say without getting into spoiler territory.  I think Firebrand is a compelling addition to Kristen Britain’s series.  It’s one that sucks me in and excites me to keep reading, so that I barely notice the time passing.  Really, the vast majority of the series is like this for me, so you can tell it’s good.  In fact, it’s interesting that I do get so sucked into these books and yet I don’t reread them very often, mostly when a new book comes out.  Maybe it’s just because some of the hardcovers are very large.  Point of fact, a coworker teased me yesterday about doing “a little light reading.”  This isn’t exactly new news, but hardcovers do make it more obvious than paperbacks.

I honestly have no idea what I’m reading next.  I don’t even know if I’ll be picking out a book tonight as I really need to get some things done around the house.  It’ll just be a surprise when I do get around to it!

Spoilers are Bad

Mirror Sight is my least favorite book in the Green Rider series.  Though I think it’s not so bad the second time through simply because I knew what to expect.  After all, when reading a series I become attuned to it and its world.  I know what the realms of possibility include and even when the truly bizarre events start happening, I only have to reflect to understand how they have been foreshadowed and truly do fit in.

Going from Medieval/early Renaissance civilation to the Victorian era can be jarring.  Especially because that is the setting for the vast majority of Mirror Sight.  Naturally, I was rather pissed off when I first read the book because it was very little like my expectations.  Now though…it’s still odd, to say the least, but at least I understand better how it fits into the main narrative.  I think part of my revile last time was due to the hype of the cliffhanger in Blackveil.

I have to admit, I’m still rather surprised to be sitting here, typing this post, when I only began Mirror Sight this morning over breakfast.  I mean sure, we all know I read damned fast, but this was still close to eight hundred pages in a single day.  And I worked today.  And spent part of my lunch chatting.  I guess I wasted less time on the internet once I got home, but still.  Not typical at all for me to finish a book this length in a single day.

I suppose I’m reflecting on the physicality of my reading Mirror Sight to avoid talking about the content.  I’ve already hinted at the setting, but I feel that to go into more detail would contain terrible spoilers.  I’ve no idea how many people are reading, have read, or will choose to read Kristen Britain’s books, but it’s my opinion that you deserve to be surprised by what you find within and have a genuine reaction.  Knowing how the story ends makes a book less interesting to me personally.  Even if it’s the fluffiest sappy happy-ending story after, I still don’t like to know more than what type of book I’ve picked to read.

When I was on Birthright, up in the Golan Heights (listening to the Syrians bomb each other – we were that close to the border), I heard some stories about Israeli heroes.  Because of that, I later read Self-Portrait of a Hero: The Letters Of Jonathan Netanyahu.  It was a biography/autobiography put together posthumously from Netanyahu’s letters and background information from friends and family.  It was definitely an interesting and engrossing read, but I could never like it that much because I knew how it would end from the very start – with Yoni’s death.  I think it was the act of reading the book (and writing this review afterwards) which made me understand how that knowledge is what truly destroys a lot of experiences for me.  So…I hate spoiling things for others because something I despise for myself.  Like when the Harry Potter books were still being released; the preordered copy would arrive the day of the release, and I’d run away with it and not touch the internet until I’d finished every last page.  That way, nothing could spoil it for me.

My only regret is that the next book is just as big and heavy as Mirror Sight.  Ah, my poor shoulder!

Trust Nothing in Blackveil

Blackveil is the first time Kristen Britain has ended a book on a cliffhanger.  Oh sure, there have been unresolved plots and subplots in the first three books, but those still ended on a note of closure as our characters take some time away from starring in the story.  Time passes between books, such as two years between Green Rider and First Rider’s Call and a season or so between that and The High King’s Tomb.  But Blackveil‘s final scene is a definite cliffhanger.

The forest of Blackveil has been a presence from the second book onward.  It is the peninsula which was once the Eletian land of Argenthyne, which Mornhavon the Black conquered and renamed Mornhavonia.  Here the essence of Alessandros del Mornhavon was sealed away for a thousand years…and here he changed almost everything in his domain.  But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Most of Blackveil takes place outside said forest, in Sacoridia.  We have more preparation for the King’s wedding, more dealing with many new Green Riders…and many answers about Karigan’s family.  Who was Kariny Gray, Karigan’s mother?  And what does Stevic say when his daughter confronts him about what she learned last book?  One of these two answers is much more plot-related than the other…at this time.  We also get to meet Karigan’s aunts, figures who’ve been rather nebulous up until this point.  I still can’t tell you anything about them (or how many there are) beyond Stace, but they’re not exactly important characters (at this point in time).

Of course things change when Eletians show up in Sacor City again.  (Also what is it with fantasy books and elves and chocolate?  Never mind….)  Among other things, they declare their intent to head into Blackveil Forest, and they invite King Zachary to send his own delegation alongside.  For the title of the book, we don’t actually spend more than a third or so in the place.  And it does continually cut away to the wall, or the castle, etc.

But unlike previous ventures into the forest, this is far more intense and encompassing.  And I play my own special game of “spot the redshirt.”  Because, really, when everything in the forest has evolved into a far deadlier version of itself thanks to Mornhavon’s influence, you know people are going to die.  It simply remains to be seen which ones survive and how long they last.  That’s not even getting into the political aspects of the journey, and those definitely do exist.

The deeper we delve into the Green Rider series, the more legends come to life.  It’s not just the mortal/immortal aspect, though some of the Eletians definitely remind me of Lord Elrond of Rivendell, but there’s also the understanding of what is possible.  Some things, even those whose memories are forever cannot expect because it has never happened before.  This is probably, on reflection, why immortal species in most fantasy literature require aid from the mortals to overcome conflicts.  It’s not just that we (as mortal humans) enjoy reading about ourselves as heroes.  It’s that when you’re accustomed to thinking yourself superior because you have an infallible memory and an eternity to hone it, you believe that the answers to all your problems lie in your past experiences.  So a situation that neither you nor any immortal you know has encountered is challenging and taxing and may require an entirely different mindset to solve.

I honestly didn’t expect to finish Blackveil tonight.  Not that this is a bad thing, merely unexpected.  It does put me that much closer to the new book…I simply have to get through the next book first.

Many Tombs

Karigan G’ladheon is not a fan of tombs.  Or ghosts.  Or death.  Or any of those things, really.  Which is of course why they all seem drawn to her, especially here in The High King’s Tomb.  Which then must make the reader question why these things are drawn to her.  Or, as a spirit asks her in this book, “Do you know what you are?”

I would say the question is not answered in full by the climax.  Oh sure, it adds a wildly new dimension to the story and the world of the series, but it is very difficult to boil a person down to a word or even a succinct sentence.  I think the only good descriptions to use for Karigan are “Green Rider” or “hero.”

There are gods in this world.  Mostly discussed have been Aeryc and Aeron, gods of moon and sun.  Also mentioned has been Nia, a goddess of oceans or fishing…something like that.  And Westrion, the Birdman, the death god with his steed Salvistar.  Which brings up an interesting point.  Do animals have gods that they worship?  Some books say yes and others don’t care one way or the other.  But in this book, we see horses bowing to Salvistar, granting Him their allegiance and prayers.  It’s the most peaceful side of Salvistar, considering he is a harbinger of war, strife, and battlefields.

Last time, when I had finished First Rider’s Call, I meant to talk about colonialism.  After all, interspersed throughout the entire book are snippets of the journal of Hadriax El Fex, one of the Arcosians who came with Alessandros del Mornhavon to take the New Land (Sacoridia, Rhovanny, Kmaern, etc.) by conquest and bring it into the Arcosian Empire.  In our Western European-descended lives, we are most likely to sympathize with the foreigners coming to the New World, as our own ancestors did long ago.  However, when you look at Green Rider, you realize that our heroes are the descendants of the natives instead.  To reinforce the parallel with our own world, the Arcosians are monotheistic in contrast to the polytheistic natives.

A lot of plot points in First Rider’s Call created tensions and stresses between various characters, but many of those are resolved in The High King’s Tomb, though not all of them of course.  And new points and subplots are introduced in this third book, which will not be completed until later.  Normal for a series.

Of course, from First Rider’s Call onward, the books do get increasingly long, so I may not be able to finish them in two days apiece.  We shall see!

Squalor Atop Grand Ruins

Now that we’ve been introduced to the world of Green Rider, it’s time to dive right into the main plot.  In many ways, it’s easy to see that these books are strongly influenced by Tolkien, and why not?  The man changed the face of literature with The Lord of the Rings and his books are still beloved today.  Green Rider tells us of some historical events, such as the Clan Wars two hundred years previously when King Agates Sealender died without naming an heir, and the Clans fought amongst themselves until Smidhe Hillander took the throne at last.  It even mentions the Long War, a thousand years in the past when King Jonneus Sealender was chosen to be the first high King of the Sacor Clans and the Green Riders were formed under Lil Ambriodhe’s leadership to fight against Mornhavon the Black.  It was said that after that war ended, the evil was sealed away in Blackveil Forest, behind the D’Yer Wall.

Sounds nice, but Green Rider opened with the wall being cracked, and finally breached.  First Rider’s Call is about those myths and legends of a thousand years ago being revealed for the truth they are.  After all…Blackveil is awake.  Or rather, Mornhavon still exists, bodiless, within the Forest, able to exert his will on all within…and some without.

As wild magic strikes randomly through Sacoridia, and we begin to see our heroes looking to the past for information and answers, I cannot help remembering one particular scene from The Fellowship of the Ring.  (The movie version, as I personally found the books to be very dry.)  It’s when the Fellowship is sailing down the river and Aragorn gestures, saying “The Argonath.  Long have I desired to look upon the faces of the kings of old.  My kin.”  Then the camera pans up and we see the two massive sculptures of men who stand on either bank, one hand each thrust forward as if they might bar the way.  To see the scale of them, a scale that is unseen in any mortal lands before that point, it really brings home the fact that the people of Middle Earth live in squalor atop the ruins of a previous Age.  To see that their ancestors were capable of so much…and they (seemingly) so little…

Sacoridia is a little different in some ways.  The Sacor Clans of the past were much less civilized, as we of Western European descent use the term.  However, they were much more proficient and powerful in the use of magic than their descendents.  Karigan’s particular skill is to fade out, allowing her to seem invisible in proper lighting conditions.  Yet the use of this ability turns the world around her to grey and gives her a splitting headache.  This in contrast to when Lil Ambriodhe uses the same ability and feels nothing but a bit of strain, as one does when concentrating hard.

We get this contrast because only so many winged horse brooches were made long ago, so all that the Green Riders possess were once worn by one of the original Riders.  The brooches themselves call new individuals to the messenger service, and they seem to resonate with people who share the same abilities as the original owner.  Thus, the brooch Karigan wears is the same one worn by Lil herself, the First Rider.  Between this, and the wild magic running amok, Karigan has some strange adventures in First Rider’s Call.  I can’t even say that these are her strangest, because it’s only the second book and Karigan’s had one of the most interesting Rider careers in history…and she’s only been a full Rider for a year or so at this point.

This book also contains one of the best comic relief scenes in the series, near the end of the story.  Kristen Britain managed to establish a side character just enough for readers to remember, then brings them back just in time to make the reader smile.  Considering that the end result of the main plot is really just a holding action to buy time (and prolong the series, good marketing that), it’s a good point to interject a bit of humor.  When your main character seems to be constantly surrounded by death (a point which has been and will continue to be remarked upon) it’s always nice to find bits that actually make you laugh.