Title: The Harp of Kings
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Put aside the training and the trials that tend to hold these stories back, take the mute POV of the least-likable protagonist with a grain of salt, and forgive the inclusion of a precocious child on whom so much comes to rest. What matters here is the setting, the supporting cast of characters, the intertwining of magic and music, and the inclusion of a kick-ass female protagonist who doesn’t need to scream “strong woman” because she lives and breathes it.
For my first reading of Juliet Marillier, Juliet Marillier was a solid fantasy and an easy read that was thoroughly entertaining. The series is called Warrior Bards for a reason, and while you don’t normally find those two roles within the same character, here it works – it really works. Liobhan and Brocc are siblings, one a whistle player and the other a harpist, both of whom can sing, and both of whom can fight. They are young enough and new enough to the elite warriors of Swan Island that they are the perfect choice to slip into court and find out what happened to the fabled Harp of the title.
There’s more than enough mystery here to keep the story moving forward, with the scenes involving the druids particular favorites of mine, although there are also enough fae and witches to give this all the flash and flare of a traditional high fantasy. Given that the Crown Prince is an unlikable individual and the first in a long line of rulers to distrust the druids, there’s ample reason to suspect him of being complicit, at the very least, in the situation.
The story itself is a slow-burn fantasy, nearly half-over before anything of real significance comes to the forefront. The alternating narrators, each of whom is telling their own story, is perhaps not my favorite narrative style, but I liked two of those voices enough to stick with it – and while I was tempted to skim the third, there were enough important things going on that I found I had to slow down and read. The tension and mystery do pay off, and there is genuine character growth, but it’s all very slow and subtle. I was hoping for a bit more action, more opportunities for Liobhan to take charge.
In the end, The Harp of Kings was a solid read, thoroughly enjoyable, with a writing style that has me eager to catch up with some of the older Marillier paperbacks I’ve picked up this summer.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.