A keeper? On the whole, yes
(This has got to stop. One point, for me, of tackling various reading challenges was to identify books I don’t really want. But now that I’m finally looking at my TBRs, it turns out that most of them are too good to dispose of. What’s a packrat to do?)
Almost 500 pages of the roving – picaresque, if you want to be English-majorish – adventures of Rune, aka Lark, and the friends she eventually makes along the way; and almost every page is interesting. It’s not a perfect book, of course, but it’s packed full of enjoyable moments. Rune knows what she wants at any given part of the story and goes after it – what she wants changes appropriately as she learns more about her world and the likely consequences of her choices, and especially as she matures and learns more about herself. (The main action of the story takes Rune from just barely 14 to 18 or 19.) But it’s not just the story of Rune growing up. It’s the story of Tonno who would have been a musician if only he had the talent, of Amber who made a satisfactory life in a hard world, of Stara who snatched at everything she wanted and lost her grip on it, of Gwydain who disappeared, of gypsies and judges and elves and lost heirs.
So, what’s wrong? Well, if it matters (and maybe it doesn’t), Lackey sort of ignores all the standard advice on how to construct a plot: start with a little problem for your main character, solve that problem in a way that leads to a worse problem, lather, rinse, repeat, till by the end it looks impossible for your character to find any sort of solution. In many ways, this book reads as if it might have started as a series of short stories – Rune is faced by a problem that makes it impossible to go on with her life as it is, and finds a way to leave and take up a new life. Her worst problem, being trapped in a tiny village with an abusive mother and serious danger of gang rape, comes at the very beginning of the story, and she escapes by taking what may be her biggest risk – playing a concert for a murderous ghost. That’s the end of that set of problems. After that, on the whole* her life gets better and better (and good for her).
* (Well, there is the incident about halfway through that leaves her with bruises on bruises and a broken arm. But, through no action on Rune’s part, this leads directly to being quasi-adopted by the nicest people she ever meets and having all her dreams come true.)
Are there worse flaws? Most of the characters, with just one notable exception, are either Good People or Bad People. Even if they have what are usually considered flaws, the people Rune likes have Hearts Of Gold every time. However, what I really disliked was the Fantasyland dialect – “Na, na, Rune. That’s not sensible, lass. Nobody can have that….Leastwise, no musicker.” I don’t like dialect anyhow, except in tiny doses – and this is especially annoying, because everybody Rune grew up with talks like this, and she talks standard English.
What I really liked, what sold me on the book finally, was the very last episode (the last sixty pages), with the most complex person in the whole story and an unexpected twist in the problem and in its resolution. Ending on a high note always helps!