A plausible secondary world

Bodleian crow
Crow from an illuminated manuscript in the Bodleian Library

Alison Croggon The Crow:
the third book of Pellinor

Walker Books Ltd 2006

All novels, and especially fantasy novels, provide the opportunity for authors to create their own worlds in which to place their characters, and in large measure what makes the story convincing is the plausibility of that secondary world. Croggon’s land of Edil-Amarandh is given credible substance by its characters’ interaction with the geography, climate and changing seasons, and the success of The Crow and the other Pellinor books is enhanced by the impression that Maerad and Hem, Cadvan and Saliman are all inhabiting a real landscape: we are with them, almost in real-time, every step of their journeys, every rest in their tasks. It may or not help to imagine their world as perhaps that straddling what is now the mid-Atlantic ridge between Newfoundland and western Europe, sometime towards the end of the last Ice Age when sea levels were lower, but it is not essential, particularly as Croggon’s storytelling skill provides the verisimilitude to convincingly transport us to this sprawling continent in the grip of unfathomable changes.

Fans of Maerad from the first and second books may baulk at a volume in which she gets only passing mentions, but her brother Hem becomes as fascinating and sympathetic a character as his sister in the course of nearly 500 pages. In many ways The Crow appears as a narrative reflection of The Riddle: they straddle the same time-frame, ending with each of the two siblings meeting up with a lost friend on Midwinter’s Day; one sibling travels to the north-west, the other to the south-east to gain insights into the Treesong; both become imprisoned though in rather different circumstances, having to rely on their own inner resources; both discover they have gifts that they were not aware of; and both are rightly distressed when they lose significant friends. But The Crow is not just a mirror image of The Riddle, and the dangers Hem meets and his responses to events and predicaments are strikingly different from his sister’s.

The Crow is an absorbing read, and while there are stretches where nothing much seems to happen, the inner turmoil and personal growth that Hem undergoes is as essential to Croggon’s tale as any burst of action is to a more conventional sword-and-sorcery novel. Love and loyalty, beauty and poetry alternate with scenes of horror and destruction and cruelty; the feeling that one is there when Turbansk is besieged, when the child-soldiers are abused, when friends are separated or re-united is strong throughout these pages and re-inforces the reader’s empathy and sympathy for the youngsters in the story as they grow old before their time. It is a harsh observer who doesn’t engage with Hem and Irc, his friend the white crow.

Repost of a review first published January 2013

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