Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure
Publisher/Publish Date: Turtleback Books/2002
My Thoughts: I realized something a little strange about my reading habits recently, which is that despite my avid love of all things fantasy and my intent to write it someday, I rarely ever read fantasy books. I haven’t even read some of the greats — Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and (most cringe worthy, I know) I haven’t finished the Harry Potter series. I realize that this is a problem. I realize that this is sad. (And yes, yes I will read all of those eventually… yeesh). Anyway, I’ve decided that it’s time to remedy this by making a real effort to consume more fantasy stories, and specifically journey-type stories similar to the novel I’m working on right now (recommendations welcome! ;D)
Because it’s been on my bookshelf for some time now, The Singer of All Songs was where I chose to begin. And how do I feel about this as a start?
Well, not great.
Think of a fantasy journey story complete with a big, bad villain and a cast of unlikely characters who somehow band together through strange circumstances then rise up to take down the baddy. Well, that’s precisely what this book was, and while there’s nothing wrong with that story model, TSOAS sticks much too close to convention, not adding anything particularly special to the genre.
The main character of the novel, Calwyn, is a girl who has lived her entire life in Antaris, an isolated city in the mountains, while training to become an ice priestess. She is curious about the outside world, but it’s not until a mysterious man beaches the giant ice wall that surrounds the city and she saves him that she gets to experience it. This man, Darrow, comes with stories of lands he’s traveled to which enchant Calwyn, along with a warning against an immensely strong and dangerous man who has been hunting Darrow. This man, Samis, wishes to become a “singer of all songs,” one who can harness the nine powers of chantment, so that he can rule as the world’s emperor.
The writing was okay. While there were the occasional stand out descriptions, it was other wise standard, simple prose. The dialogue wasn’t bad, but added very little life to the characters.
Poor writing can often be amended, in my opinion, by superb characters and world building, but this doesn’t happen in TSOAS. The characters were mostly flat. I wanted to like Calwyn, but she grew very little from the naive, sheltered girl she started as even after all of her journeying. Trout and Mica, two of the supporting characters, seem to possess the most promise for the following novels. They weren’t quite endearing, but I could see them becoming so as their strengths and flaws were most distinct of the bunch.
Constable did manage to create a world that is attractive, interesting and fairly unique. There’s an a mountain city surrounded and protected by a giant ice wall, a run down island home to an opium-like drug and an active volcano, a forest locked in an eternal autumn and more. The world could be rich, but the reader doesn’t actually get to see it all that much. The characters stop off briefly at different lands, but the majority of their journey is spent on a boat. We get to meet very few other characters or get a real feel for different cultures, which is a disappointing for a fantasy story with a promising world.
Overall, because of the lackluster writing, the absence of any significant character development and the limited view we get of the world, The Singer of All Songs falls short where other fantasy stories shine. While it isn’t a bad read, it never builds on from it’s fairly basic plot line into a memorable fantasy story.
(+) the magic of this world, chantment, is creative in how it is summoned. The user must sing to bring it forth, and different voice registers are used for different types of magic.
(-) while the idea of chantment is fascinating, it isn’t actually used all that much throughout the story
Granny-disapproval rating: 0/5. This book is tame. No gore, no sex. There is the hint of a romance to come, but I don’t even think there’s kissing of any sort. Safe for gran-gran.
Read this if…: You’re looking for a short and simple fantasy read, you’re looking for a “fantasy-lite” aka the opposite of Game of Thrones, you’re looking for fantasy books for younger kids.