Songs of the Earth (Wild Hunt Trilogy), by Elspeth Cooper
The first volumes of new fantasy series are not exactly a rarity, so it takes something special to stand out in the current market – and with certain authors pushing the genre in new directions, it takes even more courage to stick relatively close to the classic swords-and-sorcery template. That’s what Elspeth Cooper has elected to do here – and gratifyingly, for her and for the reader, it really pays off. In its characters, its worldbuilding, its magic system and crucially, its writing, Songs of the Earth is a compelling debut.
The novel opens with Gair, a young acolyte in a religious order. Gair is being tortured, accused of witchcraft. When an apparent ally, whose motivations are unclear, intervenes to spare Gair from the death sentence that seems inevitable, he has a short time to escape. Aided by the enigmatic Alderan, Gair is spirited away to the home of the Gaeden order, adepts in the use of the magic known as the Song, the same magic that nearly caused Gair to be burned as a witch. Gair is a natural talent, capable of manifesting the many different powers that can be granted by the Song, including metamorphosis and weather control; he’s also an accomplished swordsman. His time at Chapterhouse teaches him much, and leads to a romantic liaison to boot, but it’s very apparent that there is much that Gair still needs to learn, both about the Song and about the true nature of the world that’s been revealed to him.
There are other POV characters too – including another Gaeden who is responsible for patrolling the Veil, a dividing line between worlds that is somehow connected with the Song in a way that we don’t get explained; and several members of the very religious order that tried to execute Gair, where it is apparent that there are factions dividing the clerics and that their own understanding of their own history, and their traditional antipathy towards magic, may be fundamentally flawed.
Songs of the Earth has a pleasing narrative drive, and culminates in a suitably large-scale battle, full of peril for Gair and those he has come to call his friends. However, it’s apparent that Cooper is playing a longer game with the Wild Hunt trilogy, and that there is a great deal for us still to discover. No doubt there will be larger and more perilous trials for Gair too, with the Veil failing and enemies abroad. Songs of the Earth may be very traditional in its fantasy approach, but it’s none the worse for that, and I look forward very much to reading about Gair’s inevitable trials and tribulations in Book 2. A very promising debut.