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Monday, October 29, 2007

"The High King's Tomb" by Kristen Britain

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INTERVIEW with Kristen Britain

Way back in 1998 I tried out this fantasy called “Green Rider” thanks to the Science Fiction Book Club. Since it was a debut, I wasn’t sure what to expect from newcomer Kristen Britain, but I ended up having fun with the book and became a fan for good after reading its sequel “First Rider’s Call” (2003). Over four years later and Ms. Britain is finally back with the long-awaited third volume in her beloved Green Rider series, “The High King’s Tomb” (November 6, 2007). Because of the wait between the two books, I decided to reread “First Rider’s Call” before starting “The High King’s Tomb” and was again reminded what it was that I liked about Kristen Britain in the first place :)

For those who haven’t read either “Green Rider” or “First Rider’s Call”, I would describe Ms. Britain’s series as traditional epic fantasy with similarities to such authors as Kate Elliott, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Greg Keyes, Jennifer Roberson, David Eddings and David Farland. Based on that list, I wouldn’t put Kristen Britain on the same pedestal as George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan or Steven Erikson, but she’s definitely in that second to third tier. Of course, comparisons aren’t always that helpful, so what can readers expect from Ms. Britain? Well, aside from the hefty page counts, multiple narratives (ranging from main to side characters, and usually a villain or two) and intertwining plotlines, the author utilizes a number of familiar fantasy tropes. There’s the reluctant heroine who always gets in trouble, but manages to save the day; an ancient evil reawakening from a 1000-year slumber; a magical wall that is imprisoning the ancient evil; an elfin-like race; a medieval-influenced feudal system; messengers that personally serve the King; commoner/noble friction; falling in love with the wrong person and so on. In spite of these and other recognizable concepts though, I can’t help but like the series and apparently a lot of other readers feel the same way if you look at the author’s fanbase. So what’s the appeal? Part of it is the characters. Karigan and company are likable, engaging and fairly well-developed, and it’s evident that the author put a lot of love into them. It also has to do with the Green Riders them selves. Sure, a king’s messenger service with special abilities isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but I like how each individual Rider has a unique gift—invisibility, time travel, foretelling the weather, talking to animals, controlling fire, determining truth or falsehood in a person’s words, enhanced healing—and the way they interact with one another, and discovering more about the Riders’ mythos & storied heritage has been one of the series’ many highlights for me. Personally though, I think the appeal has a lot to do with the tone of the books. Despite the life & death situations that the characters constantly find themselves in, the series is definitely lighthearted in spirit. In fact, Ms. Britain injects a lot of humor into her books, and many times I was reminded of a family-friendly
, action-packed, swashbuckling adventure in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean or some other Disney-made flick...

But what about “The High King’s Tomb”? How does it stack up compared to the first two books? Is it worth the wait? Before I answer that, let’s look at the actual book. First off, weighing in at 688 pages, “The High King’s Tomb” is the longest entry in the series. Secondly, while “First Rider’s Call” took place a couple of years after “Green Rider” and readers could probably get away with not having read the first book, “The High King’s Tomb” is more of a direct sequel and it’s definitely recommended that you read the other books first. In fact, “The High King’s Tomb” revisits a lot of territory from “Green Rider” with such familiar faces as Estral Andovian, the Berry sisters, Beryl Spencer, Arms Master Rendle, Timas Mirwell and Captain Immerez popping up, so fans of the first book should really enjoy this one :) Of the point-of-views, Karigan once again leads the way with Laren Mapstone & Alton D’yer helping out, and Beryl also getting some of the attention. Surprisingly, Lady Estora and Rider Dale Littlepage are given much more prominent roles while newcomers include the evil sorceress Grandmother and the Raven Mask gentlemen thief. As before, character development is solid, expanding the horizons of some of the cast, while ignoring others. My biggest complaint with the characterization is that a couple of the perspectives, most notably Laren and King Zachary, are sacrificed in favor of narratives that I didn’t find nearly as compelling such as Lady Estora and Dale Littlepage. Secondary characters are great though, especially the Berry sisters, Damian Frost, his wife, Merdigen and the other 'wizards'.

As far as the story, “The High King’s Tomb” picks up from the end of “First Rider’s Call” when a great tragedy was averted. So unlike “First Rider’s Call” which jumped right into the action from the very beginning, “The High King’s Tomb” takes a while to get going—almost 300 pages actually—and in the early stages deals with a lot of trivial items such as King Zachary’s betrothal, Karigan’s feelings for someone she can’t be with, Lady Estral’s dilemma concerning the memory of F’ryan Coblebay, the Raven Mask, and an influx of new Riders answering the Call including the annoying Fergal Duff who Karigan ends up training. Fortunately, these mundane topics are offset by some enjoyable moments like revisiting Selium, the place where Karigan first met F’ryan Coblebay, and learning where the Riders’ unique horses originate from :) Of course more serious matters are also afoot including Alton trying to fix the breach in the D’yer Wall, Eletians parlaying with King Zachary, and the Second Empire’s latest scheme to overthrow the Sacoridians, which involves the future Sacor queen, a wizard’s journal and the High King’s tomb. Inevitably, Karigan eventually gets caught up in the thick of things and tries to save the day, but whether or not she succeeds depends on the intervention of a god… Like the other books, “The High King’s Tomb” comes to a good stopping point, wrapping up most of its immediate storylines while leaving a few subplots to be further developed in the next volume(s) and also introducing a couple of new ones. In other words, there’s plenty of story left to be told in the Green Rider series, but thankfully no major cliffhangers to drive readers crazy while we wait for the next installment :)

Of the three Green Rider books, I have to say that “The High King’s Tomb” was probably my least favorite. I just thought it took way too long for the book to get going, especially compared to “First Rider’s Call” which is my personal favorite, and even when it did finally take off, the story did not seem nearly as exciting as what Karigan and company faced in the other two books. That said, a lot of the elements that made the first two Rider novels so much fun are still present in “The High King’s Tomb” including Kristen Britain’s accessible writing, her charming characters, and some pretty entertaining sword-and-sorcery action. So, despite some disappointment, it felt really good to be reading another Green Rider novel and I already can’t wait for Ms. Britain’s next one…

BONUS REVIEW: Waiting for Kristen Britain's third entry into her Rider series titled "The High King's Tomb" was one of the hardest feats I was ever forced to accomplish. From book one; I fell in love with Britain's main character, Karigan. In "The High King's Tomb," Karigan's wry humor, frequent embarrassment, and unending loyalty are brought into focus once again. Everything a reader could ever want is also engaged in this book: magic, devious villains, swordfights, forbidden love, surprises, and (of course) horses. I enjoyed this book immensely and hope you will too!

Jacquelyn Desch—(One of “The High King’s Tomb” Giveaway Winners!)


SQT said...

I've really enjoyed this series, but I am having a harder time getting into this one. I'm about 100 pages in and kind of waiting for it to pick up.

But like Jacquelyn, I think Karigan is a really enjoyable character. I have grown to like her a lot and I expect I'll pick up each book in the series as they come along.

Jenny said...

Even without the immediate draw in as with the first two books, to leave wanting more makes me excited for the 6th!
Now I am off to re-read. thanks for the review!

Robert said...

Theresa, the book definitely picks up so don't despair and Jenny, you're welcome :D

Tia Nevitt said...

This was probably my favorite character to come out of the 90s. Green Rider was my favorite book, although First Rider's Call was enjoyable as well. I'm not thrilled to see that there are so many points of view in High King's Tomb; I generally like books like Green Rider, where there's a tight point of view on one central character.

Still, I'm looking forward to reading it!

Robert said...

Tia, the longer a book is, especially when it comes to fantasy, the more I appreciate multiple POVs. I just think it gives the book added flavor and prevents a character from getting stale...

I do like the one narrative though, but only if it's done in first-person such as Robin Hobb's FitzChivalry books or Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series :) I think it's a personal taste though :D

Anonymous said...

ok i just finished the 2nd one, and i have about 4 friends that want to see karigan and alton together by the end of book 3, so my question is.... will this happen by any chance? i hope so, ever since the 1st one we wanted to see them together 'cuz alton can't talk around her and it makes the book hilarious, not to mention it would be just plain awesome!!!

Robert said...

Erika, sorry for the slow response! I would answer your question, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone ;)

quisha said...

I need her 2 make a green rider 4! =]

Anonymous said...

Great review, "sword&sorcery" action is pretty much all I need.

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