Book Review : The Harp Of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards) (Amazon Link)

Author : Juliet Marillier
Published By : ACE
Year Published : Coming Out September 3rd, 2019. Preorder available.
Genre / Tags : Historical Fantasy, could-be-YA but mostly General High Fantasy
Mood : Quiet, elegant, yet adventurous.
Formats : Paperback, eBook
# of Pages : 464 pages (Paperback)

Summary

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 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 mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. 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 is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . .

Review

Many thanks to Netgalley, ACE, and Berkley Publishing Group for offering me an e-ARC of this title for review.

I’ve just finished the book and am in a delighted headspace of wanting to give it a 10/10 and wanting immediately to read the sequel that hopefully comes out. I marathoned the last 40% of this book (so, 200+ pages) all in one enthralled sitting. Everything clicked into place and it was an amazing time! But in the interest of wanting to consider all of a book’s ups and downs when rating, I think 8/10 is most fitting. The first half was less compelling, the pacing being a main culprit.

First, the characters. There are three points of view, each very distinct and worthwhile in telling a multi-faceted storyline. I loved all three.They’re somewhat idealized and almost too obviously endearing, but they really grew on me.

Liobhan is a strong heroine full of gusto and energy, she’s the most warrior-like of the trio. Her brother Brocc is a highly talented bard. A more gentle, soulful, and contemplative type. Then there’s the weird, semi-hostile wildcard, Dau. At first I was wondering “What is this guy even doing here?” But he ended up becoming my favored of the set.

The trio are set off on a mission to secure a missing harp. They’re tasked with being sneaky and uncovering clues from various sources. They will end up uncovering a massive threat to multiple areas of their world and secrets behind a royal family. Each character has their own distinct role in the story and their chapters convey a wildly different atmosphere.

The bulk of Brocc’s are more dreamy with lovely imagery. Liobhan’s contain more conflict, but also some moments where she bonds with a younger side character and we see a marked soft side to her. Dau has a lot of growing to do, overcoming a dark past and learning to trust again. He changes a lot over the course of the story and my feelings for him went from vaguely negative to overwhelmingly positive. I like how these three didn’t all agree about various goings-on. Long story short- these are very good characters and not one-note.

I notice this title is sometimes categorized and shelved as Young Adult. This is not unfitting, as the characters are all 18 years old so they are literal young adults. But I’d hazard a guess that if one were to read random pages of a just-plain-fantasy book and random pages from YA fantasy books, The Harp Of Kings would be widely guessed to fit amidst the just-plain-fantasy books. 

There is a maturity to the writing style, a sophistry that is immediately noticeable. The romance is light and vague and the gimmicks are few. The characters are very level-headed and intelligent. There’s no whining or angst. The plot goes at whatever pace it wants to and doesn’t seem concerned with keeping youths entertained via shocking plot twists or such. I’m sure many adults would be geared to appreciate this one. I could also see this serving as a great bridge point from YA fantasy to more general, adult fantasy.

So many important things are done well. The characters, the writing, and the world building is meticulous, convincing, and well thought out. The only downside for me was the uneven pacing and a marked slowness that permeates some early parts. There are long stretches where the story seems to be at a stand-still in favor of exploring minute details.

There are periods where characters chat at length about political intrigue or go into long-winded explanations. While I adored the very beginning (first 15% or so) there were soon too many moments that are best described as quiet and slow. Like a sort of fantasy slice-of-life, stretches where nothing particularly thrilling happens. We just learn more about the world the characters live in. I haven’t read a ton of fantasy so this may be par for the course, but I’ve read some titles that went about things more briskly.

I’d like to think that trimming some of the earlier sections could have helped in making this a more consistently compelling title, but that could have interfered with how convincing and well-realized the world ended up being.

Overall, I do consider those initial concerns a sort of investment that ended up proving worthwhile once I was hooked. Still a worthwhile read and I will miss these characters.

Side note, though the romance is not a large component of this book, I adored the glacial slow burn relationship of Liobhan and Dau. Looking forward to seeing how the very gradual development from sort-of enemies to friends to something more may culminate. It’s rare to find a pair that develops so naturally and carefully. There is a ton of potential.

Overall Rating – 8/10

Why You Should Try It – Wonderfully written, detail-oriented high fantasy. Three distinct points of view. Likable characters. A well-realized and convincing world. Ideal if you look to escape from YA Fantasy cliches and seek a more mature and polished approach. Also great if you want very little romance. That said, the little bit of romance here is nicely done.

Why You Might Not Like It – Can be slow and plodding in its earlier parts. Some of the conversations are dull. The characters are serious. Not much in way of banter or humor if you happen to look for that. Also very little in way of thrilling excitement or surprises. Serene to the point of quietness, minus some chapters with Dau in the last 30% or so.

The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards) (Amazon Link)

Thanks so much for reading my review! Are you interested in reading The Harp Of Kings? Have you read any of Juliet Marillier’s other series or books? Daughter Of The Forest has been on my TBR for a few years, it’s the first book in the Sevenwater series. I appreciate all of your thoughts/comments. As always-

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