Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey

Rune has called the Hungry Bear home for as long as she can remember - her mother Stara arrived with Rune and the story of a dead husband years before, but most people rightly assumed Rune was a bastard child and treated her as such.  With a mother who is interested only in herself, the only real kindness in Rune's life comes from Rose who owns the Hungry Bear alongside her husband Jeoff.  Through Rose Rune gets the greatest gift in her young life, a second hand fiddle from which she slowly coaxes music.  For years Rune has played music in the Hungry Bear, drawing in the local and not so local crowds to listen to her music, have something to eat, and something to drink.  But with the death of Rose things are slowly starting to change, Rune is expected to work more and play less - a depressing future awaits Rune if things don't change.

Pushed to her limits Rune makes a throwaway comment about playing for the Skull Hill Ghost - a ghost no one has seen and survived to talk about.  Striking a bargain with the Skull Hill Ghost to play the fiddle through the night, Rune puts her heat into the music - and the next morning she not only survives but has a direction for her future.  Leaving the little town she has known all her life, Rune sets out for the town of Nolton and a chance at her dream of becoming a Bard. 

Nolton offers a chance for a new start where Rune can leave her past behind and work towards the dream of taking part in the trials to join the Bardic Guild - but first she must learn more about music than how to play a fiddle.  Rune has a lot to learn about living in a town, but also about music.  Rune must be able to read and write music, to play at least two instruments, be able to compose music, and she has to do everything in the guise of a boy otherwise she will never have the chance to take part in the trials.  It seems as though everything is stacked against her - but Rune is determined to make a place for herself and to fulfil her dreams.  Shaking off her past as a country bumbpkin Rune settles into town life and works towards her goals.  Along the way she makes some amazing friends and finds a family of her own - but there is a terrible cost to pay.   

The Lark and the Wren is the first book in the Bardic Voices series, and it is a series I return to like an old friend every five years or so to reacquaint myself with Rune and her world - a world that is very different from the other worlds created by Mercedes Lackey (who is best known for her Valdemar books).  I love the world of Rune and the Free Bards, there is a lot of thought and foundation work in the novels that you don't have to think about, but if you do you realise that this is a fully formed world where some of the characters share some amazing philosophies about society and how it works.  Rune is an interesting character to experience this world through, she may be young and a little idealistic but she is also malleable and is able to change her ideas when presented with robust arguments - she may be stubborn but she is also caring and fiercely loyal to her friends and adopted family.

This novel is a foundation for the rest of the series and is nearly 500 pages long - which makes it a bit of a commitment to read.  It took me two days to read (due to unforeseen circumstances) and I ended up staying up later than usual to finish the story rather than letting it travel into a third day.  In some ways this book could have been divided into two separate novels because there is the part that is clearly Rune's story, and then there is the part that is clearly more about the Free Bards and their interplay with Rune's story.  I can see why it was combined into one story though, as it keeps the story going with some momentum and leads into the next book in the series.  There are only four books in this series and a stand alone novel that ties in with the story - this is a relatively small series for Lackey but it is still well written with strong character development and robust plots.  If you like this book and this series then you are bound to be a fan of most of Lackey's books.

If you like this book then try:
  • The Robin and Kestrel by Mercedes Lackey
  • The Eagle and the Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey
  • Four and twenty Blackbirds by Mercedes Lackey
  • A cast of Corbies by Mercedes Lackey and Josepha Sherman
  • If I pay thee not in gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Sing the four quarters by Tanya Huff
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • Cast in shadow by Michelle Sagara

Reviewed by Brilla

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