Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.
Alison Croggon’s epic fantasy, the first in the Books of Pellinor quartet, is a glittering saga steeped in the rich and complex landscape of Annar, a legendary world ripe for discovery. (from Goodreads)Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
I found this mis-shelved at the library when I was looking for more Kevin Crossley-Holland books, and as soon as I saw “Pellinor” I thought “it’s an Arthurian thing!” So I grabbed it (along with a KC-H book). But no, it’s not an Arthurian thing. Instead, it’s a high fantasy in the vein of Lord of the Rings, with bards and magic and an entirely alternate world with monsters and magic and sword fights and really awesome female leads. But no elves.
My favorite part of The Naming by far is Maerad. She’s surly, and disagreeable, and she doesn’t want to be a hero– pretty much your typical anti-hero except maybe a little bit less capable. She has her nice moments, of course, and she isn’t completely devoid of emotions like a lot of anti-heroes seem to be. She cares about people, once she gets used to the idea that they care about her. She cries. She laughs. It’s just a little more awkward than a non-anti-hero hero would be, I think. Anyway, she spent so long as a slave and because she a) has a tragic past, b) is constantly on the run from baddies who want to kill her, and c) isn’t sure who she can trust, like, ever, yeah, I can understand why she wouldn’t immediately be excited about her supposed “destiny” re:saving the world. And if she wants to be surly? Totally fine with me.
Plus there’s enough growth in her character in this book that makes me think she won’t always be so opposed to being a hero, later.
I really liked how Maerad asked the questions I always want to ask people in high fantasies. She constantly bugs Cadvan about where they’re going, what they’re going to do, what something means. I like that she doesn’t just quietly sit back and let him call all the shots without talking to her about them– after all, she’s the super-duper special girl, isn’t she? Shouldn’t she get a say, too? (The answer is “duh.”) It always bugged me when the chosen-whatever just dutifully tagged along behind whoever was sent to fetch them and nothing is told to them until page 50, or something. Like, I don’t know. Harry Potter, maybe? Anyway, moving on.
Besides Maerad, I actually really liked Cadvan, who’s quite a decent fellow, and another character that shows up in the second half of the book that I can’t tell you about because of spoilers. But he’s just as delightful as Maerad, and I’m looking forward to reading more about him in later books.
The plot was good. A bit slow sometimes, but I always find some part of a high fantasy slow. I’m always waiting for the next sword fight, the next mad dash across a deadly marsh, etc. There’s plenty of fights and mad dashes in The Naming, luckily, so I never found the slow parts so slow that I wanted to stop. Some parts, in fact, where so exciting I had to take a break and read something else until I had calmed down enough to continue!
The writing varies between extremely poetic and pretty standard. The poetry bits come out most in the description of places or people (especially the state of someone’s soul), and the more regular bits are mostly when people are talking. Which for me is a good thing; I’m not overly fond of the near-Shakespearean way of talking a lot of characters in high fantasies speak. Here’s an example of the poetry-ish bits, from page 2 of the US hardback edition, right when Maerad is being introduced in the cot where she’s a slave:
Maerad was still too young to have given up hope of escape, although as she approached adulthood and began better to understand her own limitations, she understood it to be a childish dream. Freedom was a fantasy she gnawed at obsessively in her few moments of leisure, like an old bone with just a trace of meat, and like all illusions, it left her hungrier than before, only more keenly aware of how her soul starved within her, its wings wasting with the despair of disuse.
I really liked The Naming. At over 400 pages in hardback it’s pretty hefty, but I don’t think I noticed it until Maerad and Cadvan started the second part of their journey. I could feel that they were going to be on the road for a while, and just thinking of how long it’d take was making me tired. However, it wasn’t as bad as all that, and I fairly flew through the last 200 pages. If I was to describe The Naming in a phrase it’d be “intense action muffled by a layer of inaction.” Sometimes that inaction can be a bit grating, and it’s not for everyone– it’s not even for me most of the time (which is why I never made it past The Hobbit)– but if you can be patient through the slow bits The Naming is extremely enjoyable. (And the action-packed bits more than make up for the other parts.) I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, actually!
Read: October 2009