A young woman is both a bard—and a warrior—in this thrilling historical fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels.
Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.
Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into disarray. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision—and the consequences may break her heart.
This breathtaking, often heartbreaking Celtic-flavored fantasy novel from Marillier (the Blackthorn & Grim series) couches a challenging quest in storytelling both earthy and unearthly. Young siblings Liobhan, a singer and whistle player, and Brocc, a singer and harper, both in the final stage of their taxing warrior training, are assigned to find the missing ancient Harp of Kings before Midsummer Day. The harp is needed to confirm the coronation of Breifne's new king. Disguised as itinerant musicians and supported by Dau, a troubled fellow trainee undercover as a mute stable boy, brash Liobhan and sensitive Brocc undertake a spy mission that tests and matures them. Liobhan, the martial artist heroine, discovers her softer nature; Brocc realizes his bardic calling; and proud Dau learns humbly how to love. Fantasy fans will savor Marillier's unerring knack for characterization; even the animals, such as dogs Storm and Bryn and fairy creature Moth-Weed, feel real. Most satisfying is her ability to weave multiple strands of narrative into a brilliant tapestry. This lush fantasy is sure to win Marillier many new fans.
Slow pace but good
I’m a huge fan of Juliet Marillier books. This book wasn’t my favorite which is why I gave it 4 and not 5 stars. I found it to be slower pace but the writing is still good. I will be reading the second book to see how the story unfolds.
The magic of music
Never has a fantasy story touched me so profoundly that I was brought to tears not once but twice. The Harp of Kings is a moving tale of love lost, the power of family, and the qualities needed to be a hero among men. The story takes you on a journey that never slows and never disappoints.
What I Like:
The Harp of Kings is story-driven but could easily have been character-driven as Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc touch our hearts with their individual stories, goals, and choices. The tale is masterfully written so that it pulls you in much as a night of live music does with its ability to lift hearts and bring forth memories that touch your soul.
The setting is historical from a time and place that spurs the imagination. Scottish and Irish mysticism is well documented, and the stories are numerous, such as the story of Merlin and King Arthur. This tale keeps that tradition alive and elicits similar feelings of it being “a land of myth and time of magic.” The descriptions are so detailed that I could imagine my own ancestors as they walked, lived, and played in Scotland and Ireland long ago.
Liobhan is a strong female character and, as always, I love a strong heroine. She has that spunk and fire that pulls me into a story. Dau starts out as the typical male lead but grows and changes along the way into a more profound and full-fledged hero - one that you end up rooting for by the end.
What I Wish
This is usually the place where I gently complain when a book is written in shifting perspectives. As a reader, I find that often this device breaks up the flow of a story to a point where it negatively impacts my enjoyment of reading it, but that is NOT the case with The Harp of Kings. The device was used in such a way that it enhanced the story. The reader would have lost out had it not been used.
To Read or Not to Read
If you want a fantasy tale that will touch your heart and entertain your mind, The Harp of Kings is the right choice for you!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.