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Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper
4.5
Book Name: Songs of the Earth
Author: Elspeth Cooper
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: February 28, 2012

You’re walking down the road, headphones in your ears and the first few bars of your favorite song kick in. You feel good. You turn it up. The drums start beating through you. The bass hits. You smile. No one else around you can hear what you hear. It’s the soundtrack to your own private world and it sounds amazing. Goosebumps appear on your skin. And when the chorus hits, you feel like you can fly! It’s a magic moment.

The hero of Songs of the Earth, Gair, knows how that feels. He hears his own music too, quietly on the fringes of his sub-consciousness, building in tempo and volume until he’s pulsating with its power. The bad news is, in his world, it means he’s a witch and he’s going to get burnt at the stake. And that’s if he’s lucky.

In Elspeth Cooper’s amazing debut, magic is created through music that only a very few can hear and access. A few that are hated and feared by the rest of humanity and demonized by the Church.

Gair is an orphan brought up by the Church to be one of their knights, until they discover he has magical abilities that mark him as a heretic. As the book starts, we find Gair on trial, facing the very real possibility of being executed. A last minute reprieve finds Gair traveling to a mysterious island with his mentor, Alderan, where he hopes to learn how to master his abilities at a school with other gifted youngsters. Needless to say, the journey is not an easy one and the island faces dangers far greater than any offered by the Church.

So far, so familiar. It’s the classic hero’s journey.

But what raises Songs of the Earth above the clichés is the joy that Cooper brings to the telling, the tension that she puts on the page and the world she weaves around us. The magic system is so refreshingly different, constructed around the music that surges and sings within Gair and the other adepts. Cooper conveys well the guilt Gair feels as his religious beliefs conflict with the sheer pleasure he feels in summoning magic and how a lifetime of strict upbringing crumbles as his potential is unleashed. After all, as we all know, it would be easy to abstain if sinning wasn’t so much fun.

It’s not the perfect book. Gair could have benefitted from a few flaws here and there to make him more of a person instead of just the archetypal hero. For example, despite coming from such a cloistered background, he seems to settle into his new life with a little bit too much ease. Also, every time the name of his mentor appeared, it jarred me out of the story as I wondered if Alderan had been named after Alderaan, the Star Wars planet. (But that could say more about me than anything on the author’s part.) However, these are very minor gripes with a book that had me riveted throughout. For a new author, Cooper writes with the confidence and strength of voice that belongs to a seasoned pro and it’s exciting thinking about how good she’s going to get with each new offering.

Some are comparing her to Patrick Rothfuss and, as nice a compliment that is, it is one that’s rather unfair as they are very different authors. Anyone buying Songs of the Earth expecting another Name Of The Wind will be disappointed. Rothfuss can wax lyrically about the opening of an envelope for a hundred pages and keep the reader enthralled with his turn of phrase but Cooper hasn’t written that kind of book. Her prose is taut with a fast pace to it that never lets up, driving Gair and the reader to its dramatic conclusion, playing no favorites in its outcome. The few quiet moments merely forewarn of greater danger in the future than offer any real respite. There is no time for naval gazing in Songs of the Earth. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Sometimes, when I yearn for escapism, I need an adventure where (hopefully) good triumphs over evil and I end up feeling everything’s all right with the world. Songs of the Earth is just that kind of book. In a year of such heavy weight fantasy releases as A Dance With Dragons and The Wise Man’s Fear, it is the debut of Elspeth Cooper that has stuck with me the most and ranks as my favorite of 2011 so far.

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2 Comments

  1. […] year ago, I reviewed my first book for Fantasy-Faction. It was for Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper. It was one of my favorite books of 2011. Fast-paced and exciting, I summed up my […]

  2. […] been reviewed here before, has been a book club read, but Songs of the Earth is a book I have to shout about. Here’s […]

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