I just need to say first, even though no one reads this blog, that I really enjoyed this book. It was very good, well paced, and interesting. I loved it. I am, however, going to snark a bit on it and compare it to JRR Tolkien, but I do really like this book, and I got the second part of the series on my Kindle, I just haven't started reading it yet.
Okay, so, the main character is Karigan G'ladheon. No, seriously. That name...it seems familiar, doesn't it? Hmm...I don't know. Anyway, Karigan starts out the book on a journey, which I appreciated after reading about three hundred pages of Frodo wandering around the Shire, I was happy to pick up a book where the heroine is already on her way.
The author really made me happy with her pacing here, because I have read a few books (namely Twilight, but a few others) where the heroine is running away from whatever, and keep us in suspense for ages while she angsts about her decision. "Was she doing the right thing? Could she go through with it even though it was endangering everyone she loved? Le sigh!" Karigan keeps us in no suspense. She's running away from school because she got kicked out for having bad grades and beating up a young lordling. Mostly for the beating up a young lordling part. In her defense, he was asking for it. Rather than wait around for her father to come and collect her, Karigan instead decides to just set off for home, alone, without a horse, with very few provisions, and on foot. As you do.
Now, Karigan's reasons are pretty sound for doing this. She maybe should have left a note or told someone, but she's seventeen. Her reasons are that her dad is a merchant, and she doesn't want to take him away from his business while he goes to collect her because she doesn't want to lose him any money, and she's pretty sure she'll do that if he comes after her.
She's just about to turn on the road that will take her home when a Green Rider comes through the trees with two black arrows in his back. He forces her to promise, with his last breaths, to take his message to the king, and gives her everything he has on him for her protection. And now suddenly, Karigan is whisked into a world where magic is real, Eletians (sylvan elves) exist, and a mysterious gray-cloaked man is killing all of the green riders with two arrows to the back. The Green Rider, F'ryan Cobblebay (you can't make this stuff up), also leaves Karigan with his greatest assets; a gold pin that shows a winged horse, and a horse that can run like it's flying. The Horse, as Karigan calls him, quickly becomes my favorite character.
The descriptions, characterizations, and various adventures are really wonderful and very nearly distract from Karigan's meeting with the Tom Bombadil and Goldberry: two spinster sisters called (again, can't make this up) Bayberry and Bunchberry. There's also the Shelob part where a gigantic scorpion-like creature comes out of the woods of Mordor...er, Blackveil. Mornhavon the Black created Blackveil centuries ago in order to rule Sacoridia with dark magic, but the Sacoridians managed to construct a wall to keep him out, and his immortal spirit now dwells in the Blackveil forest. But The Grey Cloaked One (not to be confused with Saruman the White) decided to open the wall, and now creatures are getting out. There's some sort of brand of Orc that I think they called shadowmites, but I can't remember, that go around and fight people, so now that the D'Yer wall has been breached, they're getting out and causing havoc.
Bayberry and Bunchberry give Karigan a "moonstone", a stone that has a captured moonbeam in it, and it lights Karigan's way when she's feeling down, heals her when she's injured, and eventually helps defeat Saruman...er, The Grey One. I mean, I'm not saying that she's necessarily copying Galadriel catching the light of Earendil in a vial of water for Frodo, but come on. It's hard to not compare this book to Lord of the Rings.
Now, one of my biggest issues with LOTR was the pacing. I felt that Tolkien really needed an editor and badly, so I was happy when Karigan managed to deliver the missive to the king before the end of the book (took the One Ring to Mordor...), and I really did enjoy this book. If I had never read LOTR, I would have thought this author was a genius. I still think she's quite clever. She's nowhere near as clunky and contrived as that horrid rip-off, Eragon, but less maybe could have been more. When the giant scorpion came out, I was like, "And there's Shelob."
I think what made this author successful where other authors have failed is that firstly, Kristin Britain did not write a fanfiction. She made her own characters and gave them their own motivations, desires, backstories, and worlds. Even the Mean Evil Baddies have backstories, and I think most authors just go by tropes rather than plots and characters where we're supposed to hate the people they say to hate and like the people they say to like, but Britain gives us the greatest gift writing can give us: not only are the "bad" characters well developed, but in their own world, are "good" characters, rendering Karigan and her side "bad" if you look at the kingdom in the correct light. And the "bad" side, even though some people's motivations were less than pure, had a point. You see, when the old king died, he named his second son as the successor rather than the first. This is not done. Second sons don't get the throne unless the older son dies, that is the way of things. So really, the old king made his second son's life somewhat of a misery. There have been assassination attempts, uprisings, the anti-monarch society, etc. all because the line of succession was thrown out of whack. So taken that way, really, Karigan is in the wrong by serving the king. You see? And those that are trying to make the elder brother king are really in the right. This author does that. And it's brilliant.
I totally have to give this book an A. Even with the not-so-subtle homages to Tolkien, it was excellent and I'm looking forward to finally reading the second saga.
Oh--as a PS. There is no romance in this book. Karigan is a strong woman on her own. Yes.
Edit: I did a google search of "greenrider lotr" and found a lot of other people comparing the two. It's funny how we all have different ideas of who the Tom Bombadil was. One reviewer pointed out a woodsman who appears later on in the book for a brief time and seems to have lived a very long life. I agree that he was a more etheric spirit, but my reasons for thinking that Bayberry and Bunchberry were supposed to be Tom and Goldberry was simply because their showing up towards the beginning and giving Karigan some rest and help made me think of Tom. Someone also pointed out the gigantic eagle who came to Karigan's aid during the gigantic-scorpion-who-is-totally-not-Shelob incident, and I had sort of forgotten about him. In a way he reminded me of Radagast the Brown's eagles, but it's also hard to decide whether Britain was going for more general mythology or Tolkien mythology. Either way, it is a lot like LOTR, but it's also like some other fairy tales where eagles and other large "good" birds come and help. I mean, even CS Lewis had owls helping Eustace and Jill.
So, anyway, all that to say, there are a lot of people comparing the two, but I haven't read anyone who hasn't enjoyed the books so far. This book was seriously excellent, and I hope the second book is more able to stand on its own mythos and not borrow so very heavily from one of the most well-known fantasy books out there.
Another edit: in all fairness, I should point out that I know LOTR is based on The Volsunga Saga and also "Der Ring Des Niebelungenleid", an ancient story told from both the Swedish and German perspectives, (and it's so great because The Volsunga Saga makes Brunnhildr out to be the scorned woman whilst Der Ringe Des Niebelungenleid makes Krimhildt out to be the sympathetic character who is being used as a puppet in her brother's machinations. When you realize that both are contemperaneous, it will blow your mind.) There's a reforging of a father's sword, a cursed ring, two women in love with the same man...er...and that's pretty much it story-wise. Tolkien admitted to borroing heavily from Teutonic mythos, and it's not surprising that his world was called "middle earth" (Midgard), and that there were elves and dwarves...the elves even believe that their kind is waiting in The Halls of Mandos to be reborn, sort of like the slain warriors wait in Valhalla for Ragnarok. Heck, Gandalf's appearance very closely resembles the way Odin cloaks himself when he walks among humans. It really is an excellent representation of how to take existing mythos and make it your own. Likewise, Lois McMaster Bujold will take known historical events and create her own world around them in the same way that George RR Martin is using The War of the Roses to write his Game of Thrones saga. It's sort of like how two families can live in two exact copies of a house, and yet they both look completely different inside.