Desert Isle Keeper
The Harp of Kings
With The Harp of Kings, the first book in an all-new series, Juliet Marillier returns to the world she first introduced in Dreamer’s Pool. The book tells the story of three young people who must band together in order to locate a magical artifact with untold strength and power.
Eighteen-year-old Liobhan has dreamed of becoming a warrior for as long as she can remember, and the first step toward achieving that dream is to win a place at the elite Swan Island, an academy known for training both warriors and spies. Competition is stiff, pitting Liobhan against many skilled fighters, most of whom are as desperate as she is to obtain one of the few coveted spots.
Liobhan’s brother is also competing for a spot at Swan, but his dreams are different from those of his sister. He’s an extremely gifted musician, and he would like to use his music to aid the land he loves, but he’s not the most confident of men, and he begins to wonder if he’s really cut out for life as a bard.
Liobhan and Brocc are chosen to participate in a dangerous quest to locate the missing Harp of Kings, a quest that will require them both to reach deep into themselves to discover power they weren’t they had. The siblings are joined by Dau, a mysterious young man with skills and secrets of his own, making him the perfect addition to their small group. Together, these three journey into strange lands, encountering numerous magical creatures both dangerous and benign as they search harp, for only if they succeed will they finally be able to achieve their personal dreams.
AAR reviewers Lisa and Shannon read The Harp of Kings, and got together to discuss their reactions to it.
Shannon: I’ve been a fan of Juliet Marillier’s books for almost twenty years. I love her lyrical writing, immersive world-building, and complex, three-dimensional characters. Was Harp of Kings your first experience with her work?
Lisa: it was! And a lovely experience it was; what rich character work and world building she offered up! It was like sinking into a real universe, a unique universe, and the book offered fantastic insight into her unique world all around.
Shannon: This is a story told from multiple perspectives, my favorite of which was Liobhan’s. She was so much fun to spend time with. There was something special about her ability to be a fierce fighter, but still allow her softer side to shine through occasionally. I never got the impression she was trying too hard to be something she wasn’t.
Lisa: I absolutely fell in love with Liobhan, who was beautifully balanced, vulnerable but a total fighter. As you said, she never lost faith in the quest, in the notion that this is what she was supposed to be. But my absolute favorite character was Dau, tough cookie that he was.
Shannon: He was a little trickier for me to warm up to. When he first appeared on the page, I was put off by some of his mannerisms. He came off as a bit too cocky for me, and I wasn’t overly fond of the way he initially treated Liobhan. Fortunately though, I warmed up to him quite a bit as the story progressed, and actually ended up being quite fond of him by the time I reached the end. What drew you to him?
Lisa: I loved his cockiness, actually! That’s what made him my favorite – because I knew there was something underneath, and I knew he had to be treating Liobhan like that for a reason. Marillier did a great job rounding him out; while at first he feels very obsessed with his own toughness, very into himself as a warrior and proving himself (things that, in Liobhan’s case, come with a smooth, natural ease), eventually his insecurities – and his softer parts – come to life. Like I said, he was my favorite bar-none – and it’s worth noting that his storyline, and a few other threads, contain referenced child abuse. But as for Brocc, well – he didn’t quite come to life here.
Shannon: Brocc’s PoV felt a little unnecessary to me. He served an obvious role in the quest the characters were undertaking, but I didn’t really enjoy spending time in his head. He was a little bland for my taste, especially compared to vibrancy of Liobhan and Dau.
Lisa: I think it’s because there was a degree less richness within him; while Liobhan is fully fleshed out from the start and Dau becomes so, Brocc is a Flat YA Fantasy Protag and never really develops beyond that. Maybe Marillier has a plan for him in the ensuing series, but here he doesn’t stand out. It might as well have been a story about Liobhan and Dau learning to trust one another.
Shannon: I’m not always drawn to books with a huge quest as the central plot point. Fortunately, Ms. Marillier has a way of creating quests that suck me in right away, and I ended up super invested in the search for the harp. Do quests usually work for you, and how did you feel about this one in particular?
Lisa: The pacing here was pretty fantastic – the quest, of course, making sense for Liobhan. It tracked with her musical skills and her desire to develop a warrior’s skills (and a sense of stealth and spycraft!). I’m a Dungeons and Dragons person – and I quite enjoy quests of any and all sort. The shared mission here was a delight.
Shannon: How do you feel about the romantic arc of the story? One of the things I love most about this author’s writing is the slow, natural way the relationships between characters evolve, and this story is no exception. I don’t think we get a clear sense of who will eventually end up with whom here, but I’m really eager to see how things turn out as the series continues.
Lisa: I thought it was a start and as though it could be developed well in the upcoming books, but felt a degree beside the point to me. I was here more for the adventure and character development and world building than (spoiler and spoiler) getting together, no matter how gradual and natural it felt.
Shannon: You know, that’s one of the many things that makes this author’s work so special. I initially picked this up expecting to focus mainly on Liobhan’s search for the harp, but then, all these other elements popped up, and I was completely sucked in. Every single plot point felt important, which is saying something if you stop to consider the length of the novel.
Lisa: The world building really was unique and felt natural to me. I loved how well it worked the Fae and touches of druidic magic into the mix.
Shannon: Ms. Marillier makes the magic seem so natural and effortless, and it’s woven into the world so seamlessly. I absolutely loved the magical creatures included in the story. They added a layer of richness to the world, and I never found them difficult to take seriously.
Lisa: Oh man, I loved them. I had more problems with a spoilery character who enters late in the mix – but to talk too much about them would reveal a crucial plot point!
So what’s your grade? I’m going with an A-;rapturous world building, interesting character work, great plot and fantasy elements, but Brocc was a bit of a bore and the romantic subplot, while it felt natural, also felt besides the point, and there was a spoilery character who never worked for me and felt a tad too clichéd.
Shannon: I’m also going with an A-, pretty close to perfection, but Brocc’s character proved to be a bit of a sticking point for me.