Songs Of The Earth, by Elspeth Cooper

Series: The Wild Hunt (Book One)

Edition: Paperback

Publisher: Gollancz

Published: 2011 (This edition – 2012)

Where I got it: Waterstones Glasgow

Rating: 4/5


Gair is under a death sentence.

He can hear music – music with power – and in the Holy City that means only one thing: he’s a witch, and he’s going to be burnt at the stake. 

There is no hope …

… none, unless Gair can escape, master his growing, dangerous abilities, and find the Guardians of the Veil. Maybe, he’ll be safe.

Or maybe he’ll discover that his fight has only just begun.

 Songs Of The Earth is one of those true reading pleasures for me, where the proverbial journey is every bit as interesting as the destination. It begins at Gair’s trial, where only the intervention of someone who, for most of the book, remains nameless spares him from being burnt at the stake. Following this he is branded and excommunicated from the Suvaeon Order, and his journey out of the Holy City begins with the challenge of making it past their border alive …

Naturally he does, because this would be a much shorter and less interesting book if he didn’t, but part of the appeal of this story for me was the journey itself. Gair is taken from the Holy City to the Western Isles, to a safe haven for people like him who can hear the Song and use magic. Accompanied by a man named Alderan, who also has an affinity for the Song, he begins to learn that his ability is so much more than just heresy, or something evil to be burned out of him. It’s the power of nature, and indeed the ways in which the Song can be put to use are distinctly elemental. Some can call on water, earth, air or fire. Some can even shapeshift. And Gair’s gift is one of the most powerful to come along in a very long time. I loved this elemental take on magic in Cooper’s fantasy world, and it makes for some pretty spectacular scenes throughout the book.

Gair’s journey with Alderan to the safe haven of the Order of the Veil is beset along the way by encounters with a man named Savin, whom it is gradually revealed was once a member of the same order who turned his power toward selfish and destructive ends. The ‘Veil’ is a barrier between their world and another, far more magical one, and Savin is hellbent upon destroying it. As the story progresses, we discover that Gair is somehow central to his goals, being in possession of something Savin needs to complete his ‘mission’…

Because of this, and on account of how very strong his gift is, Gair has to learn to control it – and to master it – as soon as possible. What I liked about this setup is how Gair handles all this. When we first meet him he’s almost a wreck, having been imprisoned and vilified for his power for so long – but he faces his trial on his feet, even half-starved and beaten as he is. Once given an alternative to trying to silence the Song (no easy task, to be certain) thanks to Alderan, he welcomes it rather than shying away. Finding peace within himself will only come when he embraces the Song, and everything that follows from doing so only makes his character that much stronger. It’s clear that whatever destiny Gair is heading toward, he’ll face that on his feet too, and by the end I was in full support of him, in the best rooting-for-the-good-guy way. 

It’s the classic Hero vs. Villain setup, but that’s not to say that Gair is the stereotypical white knight, do-gooder golden boy here. By the end of this story (which utterly blew me away, for the record), he has a great deal to be angry about – and all of that anger focuses upon Savin. Whatever happens, I’m pretty sure their next meeting is going to be epic.

But that’s not all. There’s more going on ‘behind the scenes’ that, hopefully, is yet to be fully explored. Several returns to the Suvaeon Order, to follow the consequences of Ansel’s decision to release Gair, show us that history may hold some clues as to the true nature of Gair’s power and what can be done with it. With the need to defeat Savin growing more urgent, the history geek in me was incredibly eager to find out more about this, as well as to read the next part of the story. In fact, if anything counts as a nitpick here, it’s that there wasn’t quite enough of Ansel’s POV stuff in here to satisfy me. I wanted more! Hopefully I’ll get it in the next book(s)…

What’s really going on behind the Veil is another question I’d love to have answered – the thrilling (and tragic!) finish to Songs Of The Earth absolutely left me wanting more in that regard. The Wild Hunt isn’t all that’s to be found there; the mysterious White Court and the Sea Elves cleverly provide enough questions to keep readers guessing into the next book (Trinity Rising). It says something that I’ve already got it ready and waiting, though this readthrough of Songs is actually a reread. Again, that says plenty about how good this book was, to me. Rereadability = excellent book! So, well done to Ms Cooper for this. I loved it, plain and simple. More please!

Books 1 & 2 of The Wild Hunt series are out now, with Book 3 – The Raven’s Shadow – coming out in the UK on August 15th. Which means I need to have read Book 2 by then. Oh, the pressure. The torture…

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