Alison Croggan The Bone Queen
The First Book of Pellinor
Walker Books Ltd 2016
After a gap of eight years Alison Croggan has fulfilled her promise to her fans that she would further enrich the narratives of her epic fantasy series known as Pellinor. Her world of Edil-Amarandh — in which Pellinor is merely one city — is set in a dim and distant past where not only magic is a reality but also perilous realms exist beyond the everyday world of humans, realms where entities like the Bone Queen can survive. If we want to imagine Edil-Amarandh we can do worse than picture it as a pre-echo of Atlantis, a continent positioned somewhere between the Old World and the New with mountainous spines somewhat reminiscent of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. All of the action of The Bone Queen takes place in the north, in the lee of the Osidh Elador mountains, between Lirigon and Pellinor.
So much for context: we read fiction primarily for stories concerning characters, not worldbuilding, and it is to people we now turn.
Cadvan is a Bard in exile. He bears a heavy guilt and, despite having made some reparations, has been banished from his bardic school in Lirigon. It is while following a lowly life in an out-of-the-way village that he is visited by the rival he tried to best in a foolishly conceived contest. Dernhil — his former rival — now tries to persuade Cadvan to clandestinely return from exile because things are awry: the very adversary that the bardic school at Lirigon had thought permanently defeated is now manifesting itself, to the danger of all the inhabitants of this world.
Croggan has recreated the sense of menace that characterised the sequels, and reintroduced us to some of the characters we knew from before. In particular Cadvan — who figures eminently in the later books — but also his mentor Nelac and his rival Dernhil all reappear; and we also get to meet a young bard Selmana, who is key to the problem of the Bone Queen (the Queen is like a dark version of a warrior goddess, an evil Athena as it were). It is good to be reacquainted with all these protagonists and to find out more of their backstories, their strengths and their foibles.
If you are expecting an all-action epic fantasy, be warned: The Bone Queen, much like the other books in the series, is heavy on conversations and internal debates. Events mostly move at a leisurely pace; incidents give us insights into characters without necessarily moving the action forward; there is much on physical exertion as well as the creature comforts, familiar from the previous books, that Croggan delights in — such as food, drink and warm baths. But if you are new to Pellinor and yet manage to survive till the end of The Bone Queen you’ll want to know what follows, and what follows is on a much grander scale than anything here recounted. If nothing else there is the rest of Edil-Amarandh to explore.
The Bone Queen is the prequel to the original Pellinor Quartet but is now renumbered as the First Book. It sets out the circumstances surrounding Cadvan’s disgrace, the ripples from which affect the later books. The following episodes are called The Gift (also known as The Naming), The Riddle, The Crow and The Singing — all links are to reviews.