Billion Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing by Jeffrey Stepakoff *****
The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander *****
The Sweet and Far Thing by Libba Bray **
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan *****
Coraline by Neil Gaiman ****
The Naming by Alison Croggon ****
Title: The Naming by Alison Croggon
Genre: Fantasy/ YA Lit.
Summary: A humble person is caught up in extraordinary events and led (or sent) on a journey by a wise figure, only to discover eventually that he/she is destined to save the world in an ultimate confrontation between the powers of good and evil. In this case the young person is sixteen-year-old Maedra, who is rescued from slavery by the Bard Cadvan. They share an exhausting journey toward Innail, one of the Bard schools and strongholds that govern the land, and Maedra grows to trust Cadvan as he reluctantly reveals his magical powers in several ambushes from evil creatures. But under duress she, too, begins to discover that she has a Gift--and more. After she has learned to read, ride a horse, and handle a sword at Innail, they set out on another dangerous trek to the prestigious city of Norloch, where Cadvan hopes to consult with his mentor Nelac to confirm his conviction that Maerad is the One who was Foretold.
Review: I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but I’ve been busy. I read this book last year but, between the time I finished and the time I picked up the next two in the series, I had already moved onto a new book so I didn’t get to finish the series. However, don’t construe that for disinterest. The Naming was a wonderful surprise from a book I expected very little out of.
This is a prime example of “don’t judge a book by its cover” in the most literal sense. And, in fact, it wasn’t the cover that made me pick the book up. It was the cover of its sequel that made me pick the book up. The cover of The Naming is a poorly photoshoped picture of a girl, leading you to believe it is poorly written. Luckily, Allison Croggon is amazing. I have been reading fantasy books for years and, as I got older, only the best seemed to be able to keep my interest. Croggon creates an incredible world full of lore and mystery.
Maerad is a sixteen year old girl, a slave in a place that is cut off from the world. So imagine her surprise when one day, Cadvan sneaks into her home. Maerad surprises Cadvan; as a Bard, he has made himself invisible to all. He discovers that Maerad was able to see him because she herself is a Bard and has never known it. Even more curious, she is a Bard from Pellinor, a place where it was thought everyone perished.
One of the things that I liked most about this book is that it’s fast paced. Fantasy novels have a bad tendency to drag things out. Even Lord of the Rings, considered by many one of the best fantasy novels, falls victim to this. But Maerad has been discovered and sprung free of her prison within the first three chapters or so. They are on the road to their destination and, while most of the book is Cadvan and Maerad travelling, it doesn’t seem long. They meet their own trials on the way and, about half-way through, reach Innail. Maerad is instated as a minor bard and taught about her powers.
Cadvan is one of my favorite characters. As much as I do like Maerad, she often reminds you that she is indeed just sixteen. Cadvan is very mysterious. You get hints that he has dabble with Dark Arts but you’re never really told the circumstances and he doesn’t tell Maerad until it’s almost too late. He continually protects her, but they also continually fight. It’s an interesting relationship. Cadvan is also considered one of the most powerful Bards and has taken it upon himself to teach Maerad.
The other thing that I enjoy about their relationship is that it’s not overtly romantic. Yes, they care for each other. But Maerad is deathly afraid of male contact due to her upbringing. A physical relationship with a male that’s not violent is unheard of for her, so she shies away from them. Sometimes her feelings for Cadvan show through but so little in this first book that I didn’t even catch the romance that might happen the first time I read the book. It struck me as a much more mentor/mentee relationship. I don’t think it’s going to stay that way (I’m already half-way through the second book and it’s much more obvious) but it’s nice to have a solid first book, free of the romance. It lets the reader get a good feel for Maerad and her life and her world.
Maerad has a few other surprises on her journey. When travelling from Innail to Norloch, she discovers a family that has been killed by Hulls, or Black Bards. Among the wreckage, she finds a little boy that survived, Hem, who she seems to be drawn to. They take him to Norloch but on the way run into some very powerful evil that Cadvan cannot defeat. In fact, he almost dies from his injuries. It is only the fact that Maerad came into her full power and defeated the evil that they were able to escape. Afterward, you find that Hem is actually from Pellinor… and Maerad’s younger brother whom she thought was dead.
Things get worse when they get to Norloch. They find that the First Bard there is actually working for the Dark and was the same Bard that destroyed Pellinor and Maerad’s family. It was his fault that Maerad was sold into slavery. It is at this point that she begins to distrust all but her brother and finds out about Cadvan’s past. Only after he lets her see part of him does she finally trust him fully. It’s really a heartbreaking scene. You can see how painful it is for Cadvan not only to bring up the memories but painful also because he knows he should have done it long ago. He was so used to being alone, travelling alone that having to open up to someone again was almost beyond him. Maerad is so lost, she doesn’t know who to trust and to see them fight in that way, to come so close to completely abandoning each other is hard to read.
Eventually, Hem leaves with a trusted friend to go south and Maerad and Cadvan go north, looking for the TreeSong, something that’s supposed to help them with their troubles.
There were only a few things that bothered me about this book. For one, Maerad is The One, or the person who is supposed to fight the Dark, mainly someone called The Nameless One, and save the world. You realize from almost the first moment that Maerad is going to be something of that nature. I don’t know if that’s just a product of Fantasy novels or if Croggan is just that bad at disguising it, but I believe it to be the former. However, Hem’s appearance was also predictable. Cai was Maerad’s brother’s name and the minute Hem appeared, I knew that he was going to be Maerad’s brother. Even before that, I knew Cai wasn’t dead. He was mentioned too often and his death too mysterious. So the predictability is a little annoying but I just think that’s more a result of the genre than the author.
The other thing that bothers me is the usual problem with Chosen female protagonists; everyone seems to instantly love Maerad or, they instantly hate her, so that the reader can clearly see the line between good and evil. Very few people who meet Maerad dislike her. I’m not asking everyone hate her, but it bothers me, as it does with every novel that follows this trope, that the people who like her don’t seem to have any things they dislike about her or even people that feel mediocre about her. There’s never any middle ground.
This is a great fantasy novel that I recommend to all who enjoy the genre. It’s YA literature, so it’s a little bit of a faster read but still incredibly interesting and engaging. Don’t judge this book by its cover; the cover doesn’t do it nearly enough justice.
Books So Far This Year: 26/75
Currently Reading: The Riddle by Alison Croggon and The Chambers of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
You can read this review and all others at im_writing or my Goodreads Account.