Title: The Harp of Kings
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group – Ace
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Summary: Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau are trainees hoping to join the ranks of the Swan Island warriors. When they’re, surprisingly, chosen to go on a mission, they learn it’s because of the unique skills they possess, but hope to prove themselves worthy. Their mission, alongside two warriors, is to find and return the Harp of Kings in time for the new king’s crowning. Straightforward enough, their search rapidly leads them into the royal household’s politics and right into the Otherworld.
I’ll be honest, the primary reason I wanted to read this book was because it involves a harp. As a harpist who doesn’t get to read her chosen instrument very often in fantasy, especially one where it’s so prominently placed, I couldn’t resist. Fortunately, this book also has an interesting premise and was intriguing in its own right.
There’s a very strong Celtic feel to this book, from the names to the setting to the Otherworld. Because of the Celtic influence, it makes it difficult sometimes to figure out how a name is pronounced, and to remember for the next time it’s mentioned. There is a character list with handy pronunciations, though. As for the setting, it’s heavily forested and the woods house otherworldly creatures with a mythical air hanging over it all. There are druids, hints of magic, and wee fae folk that I wish had been better described. This book kept making me think of ancient Ireland, and the music only added to that. While reading, I felt like the world came to life in my mind and it was easy to feel like I was walking in it.
The story is told by three main characters: Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau. While they were accompanied by two Swan Island warriors, the focus was on the three of them and the struggles they had to deal with as trainees hoping to be chosen to be warriors. They had clear cut roles on the mission, but it quickly became muddled as they needed to take on different personas, yet couldn’t shake who they were, and became torn between duty to the kingdom and duty to Swan Island.
I loved that Liobhan was feisty and fierce, but had to play a completely opposite role. Though a strong female, she had many faults, and I really enjoyed the internal conflict between her wanting to be herself and the need to be her mission persona. But as much as I enjoyed Liobhan, my favorite was Dau, Liobhan’s rival for much of the book. At the beginning, his seemed like an easy character to understand. He was a strong fighter and very set on doing what he was supposed to do, but, as the story went along, more of his past was revealed, turning him into a complex character that was more fascinating than Liobhan and Brocc. Reading the growth of his character was a great pleasure and made him feel more human. As for the harpist himself, Brocc felt a bit harder to pin down. Both musician and warrior, I couldn’t help but enjoy the musician side of him more. Though he had a fascinating back story that was more hinted at than told, I felt like I didn’t know him as much more than a musician.
The Harp of Kings tells a fascinating story of the tenuous balance between nature and the human footprint. On one hand we have a royal household where the crown prince has little regard for nature and the history of the land he’s about to rule. On the other we have the Fair Folk who rely on nature, who make it their home, and need the land to be respected in order to thrive despite their dwindling numbers. It falls into the hands of the three trainees to both work out where the Harp of Kings vanished to, as well as how to get it back, and unravel the complicated history of the royal family. Though it could put their futures on Swan Island in jeopardy, I loved reading how they evolved as people as the experience brought their values into focus and as they worked out what was more important: the future of the kingdom or their own futures.
Overall, this was a fascinating Celtic-inspired fantasy, a great start to the Warrior Bards series. The characters were interesting, complex, and showed real growth as individuals and as a team. The setting was hauntingly beautiful and was the perfect backdrop for the questionable crowning of an unwilling prince. The story was interesting and well-told through the eyes of young adults who had seen much in their short lives, but still needed to see more. I loved the mystery aspect of what happened to the harp, but, in the end, this was more a story of making things right and working towards peace.
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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.