Publisher: The Chicken House
Published in: 1999
Age Range: Pre Teens
Setting: Earth in a mythical pre-history
- Rialle is a pre-adolescent novice Singer, best student in her class and sensitive to the songs of the half-creatures.
- Kherron is another novice Singer, envious of Rialle, and resentful of the Echorium's regime.
- Frenn, loyal friend of Rialle, has become an non-singing orderly after his voice has broken awkwardly.
Because she can talk to the Merlee sea creatures who have the power to grant safe access to ships, Rialle is taken by the Second Singer Toharo when he travels on a diplomatic mission to the mainland Karchlord, a mission which also includes looking out for a rebellious and runaway novice.
In this prehistory, the Singers are diplomats and healers, whose songs have power, the power to heal, to calm, to excite, to cause laughter or tears. As well as humans, the world is populated by half-creatures such as Merlee, half-man half-fish and Quetzal, half-man half-bird. It is because these creatures are being slaughtered or captured that Second Singer Toharo sets out to enforce the treaty forbidding such activity, Rialle and Frenn travelling with him.
Behind these abuses is the Khizpriest, a scheming but powerful figure, whose power is enhanced by the black Khiz crystal. He has a plan which involves his capturing Rialle and forcing her to sing. Kherron has won the confidence of the young Karchlord Azri and together with Frenn, they struggle to foil his plan.
Literary Qualitities: The author has created a convincing world of humans, Singers and half-creatures, owing something perhaps to Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea and to Anne McCaffrey's Pern. Since the point-of-view characters are two youngsters, on the cusp of adolescence, our view and understanding of this world and its complexities is limited. The notion that the Singers derive their powers of healing and persuasion from the different kinds of song they sing, is original enough to give the book a certain sparkle which it might otherwise lack. Other than that, the machinations of the evil Khizpriest and the actions of the youngsters in freeing the Karchlord, a child like themselves, from the thrall of the priest is pretty commonplace stuff.
Family Situations: This aspect of the book is a little peculiar, since most of the internal evidence concerns The Singers, isolated on the Isle of Echoes, who evidently follow a lifestyle different from the other inhabitants of this world. In particular, they have Birthing Houses to which girls go as orderlies whose voices do not mature well. Each Singer-woman is “expected to donate at least one child to the Birthing House, but... the children grow up without family attachments.” There is no indication as to who fathers these children, although presumably it is the Singer-men, but there's no sign of what might be considered a committed pairing or family group.
Sentient Beings: The half-creatures are clearly sentient as they can communicate in words with those Singer-children who can hear them. However, they are treated as animals by most of the adults, and in particular by the manifest bad-guy of the piece, the Khizpriest. The mixture is slightly awkward as they do exhibit rather more animal traits and are said to have killed many by wrecking ships in the case of the Merlee or clawing them in the case of the Quetzal.
The first note was pure as sunlight over the sea, soft as the shadows in the Echorium, as perfectly controlled as any Rialle had heard on the Pentangle. Her heart began to beat faster. It wasn't a Song, as such, but it brought memories so vivid and real, she almost expected to see Eliya in the cavern when she turned her head. She shut her eyes and sighed as Singer Toharo's song transformed the freezing cave into the First Singer's five-sided chamber filled with gentle Isle night noises and a warm salt breeze from the sea. Any moment now, Chissar would walk in, and he and Frenn would start laughing and joking
Saturday 2nd August 2003