2012; 643 pages. Full Title: The Riddler’s Gift: First Tale of the Lifesong. Book 1 (out of 2) in the series “The Tale of the Lifesong”. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Epic Fantasy Sword & Sorcery; a smidgen of Romance. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Everyone agrees; young Tabitha Serannon has a gift for music. She can play the lyre beautifully. She sings even better. Some even describe it as being divine.
Tabitha isn’t sure about that. Right now, she just wants to win the local singing contest that will take place shortly at the neighborhood tavern. Or at least come in second or third. Because the top three will qualify for the next round of competition, which will take place in Stormhaven, and that’s the King’s City.
But not everybody thinks so highly of Tabitha’s musical ability. There are those of the Dark who view it as a threat. They are resolved to kill her, and to summon demons to carry this out. Tabitha is going to need some friends.
Friends with swords. Friends with magic. And perhaps even an unanticipated friend, with riddles.
What’s To Like...
There is a heavy Lord of the Rings (“LOTR”) influence on The Riddler’s Gift. The most obvious tie-ins are a Ring of Power, the reluctant ring-bearer, and some wannabe Nazgul. There’s also a circle of wizards (“The Gyre”), although only a fanatic LOTR reader will know that there were five wizards serving in Middle Earth, not just Saruman and Gandalf. But the LOTR/Riddler differences outweigh their likenesses. This is almost purely a sword-&-sorcery fantasy. No elves or dwarves or hobbits, although the Riddler’s stature might qualify him as the latter. And the only otherworldly creatures are those summoned from the demon realms.
The book is written in English, not American, and I always enjoy that. Music is important, hence the “Lifesong” in the book’s title, and I liked the poems and songs inserted by Greg Hamerton. Each chapters starts with a short, pithy quote courtesy of the Riddler, and I chuckled at the palindrome-like phrase “see thyself as thyself see”. The magic system is unique and innovative: sprites for the wielders of light; motes for the wielders of darkness.
The tone of the book is much darker than LOTR, with lots of violence, a fair amount of cussing, and some rape and torture thrown in to boot. You probably don’t want little Timmy and Suzie reading this book.
I especially liked the character development. All the main players are given deep and complex personalities. And while Tabitha is the protagonist, it was more fun trying to figure out the Riddler's angle in all this. Even the bad guys bring lessons to the tale. The problem with being the Lord of Chaos is that …well… all your subjects are inherently chaotic.
The storyline kept my interest. I once read that Tolkien’s aim when writing LOTR was to make every chapter and every scene exciting. I think he carried that out nicely, and Greg Hamerton succeeds in similar fashion here. Simply put, there are no slow spots.
The chapters are of intermediate length – 47 of them for 643 pages. There is some romance in the storyline, but it won’t cause male readers to quit the book. The plotline builds to an suitably exciting and tense ending. All the threads are neatly tied up. This is a completed 2-book series, and I presume the sequel deals with an Uber-Evil entity, Ametheus.
Kewlest New Word…
Spindrift (n.) : spray blown from the crests of waves by the wind.
Others : Haver (v., Scottish) : To talk foolishly; to babble.
“You have not used magic to interfere, have you, Riddler?”
“I have ground my teeth on the oath, but I have heeded it.”
“Always speaking truth in crooked ways, but never crooked truth,” said the Spiritist, smiling gently, her grey hair framing her sprightly face. Zarost hoped she was the only one who truly understood his riddled answer. Heeding something was different to obeying it. Just a little. (loc. 11119)
“You’re a woman. You’ll be able to tell the difference between sex and love, and it’s love I’m talking about. Sex would drive him further into despair in the morning.”
“What’s being a woman got to do with it?” Ashley interjected, with an impish grin. He took a seat on the bed beside Grace, and set a gently hand on her forehead. “We can be sensitive, too.”
“Men have more difficulty discerning the difference,” said Sister Grace, reaching up, and tweaking his ear. (loc. 12757)
The Riddler’s Gift sells for $3.99 at Amazon. Its sequel, Second Sight, goes for $5.99. Amazon offers only one other Greg Hamerton e-book, Beyond The Invisible, which does not appear to be related to the Lifesong series, and is priced at $3.99.
“Trickster, liar, traitor, thief. One part laughter, three part(s) grief.” (loc. 3070)
The quibbles are minor. There was no map, at least in my edition, and that really would’ve come in handy. I note that the “Look Inside” blurb at Amazon now includes one, so perhaps this has since been rectified. Similarly, it would’ve been nice to have an Table of Contents, with links to each chapter, in the front of the book.
Story-wise, the ‘turncoats’ in secret service for the Evil Ones whilst living among the Forces of Good seemed pretty obvious to me. Yet our plucky band of heroes were remarkably slow to grasp this. I also found the secondary threat, a Neverending Story sort of tie-in, to be somewhat "tangential". It didn't seem like it was really needed. and it was dealt with way too quickly and easily.
Finally, several reviewers at Amazon criticized the book’s length. Yes, it is long, almost 650 pages. But come on now, the reader knows that going in (at least he should if he looked at the Amazon blurb before buying it), and since there are no slow spots, that's not a valid complaint.
8½ Stars. For me The Riddler’s Gift was a well-written and thoroughly entertaining piece of epic fantasy. I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive and cranking out LOTR sequels.