Pros: Gripping epic fantasy with wonderful characters!
Rating: 5 out of 5
I just got a review copy of Kristen Britain’s First Rider’s Call, the sequel to her 1998 novel Green Rider. Usually when I get a sequel as a review copy, I’m stuck jumping in at the middle of the story and hoping the author gave each book some measure of autonomy. In this case, I blinked at the cover, thought “don’t I have a copy of Green Rider that I never got around to reading?” and ran off to dig it out. Next morning, I settled in to give it a read before starting in on the sequel. I’m so glad I had it sitting around, because I’m hooked on Kristen’s world and characters and can’t wait to find out what happens next!
Karigan G’ladheon is on her way home alone from school. She got into—or rather, won—a fight with the wrong nobleman’s son, and was suspended after he complained to influential family members. As she contemplates facing her wealthy merchant father and telling him of her failure, she comes upon a dying man, one of the Green Riders, the king’s own messengers. He insists she take an oath to deliver his message safely to the king, and gives her the golden winged-horse brooch he wears.
Nothing in Karigan’s life will ever be the same again after that meeting. She’s pursued by assassins and a mysterious “shadow man.” The Green Rider’s horse has a mind of his own, and doesn’t hesitate to take her where he wills. The ghost of the Rider seems to follow at her heels, and a few mysterious allies also pop up to lend a hand. Karigan is certain she’s hip deep in something that’s none of her business, but every indication is that whether or not she likes it, she’s already become a Green Rider.
Karigan’s story reminds me of the kind of tale Mercedes Lackey might write in some respects—a tale of a school-age child coming into her own, discovering her power, becoming an adult, and running headlong into destiny. However, I like Kristen’s approach better than Mercedes’s. Ms. Lackey’s books tend to be blatant wish-fulfillment fantasies, in which the teen in question overcomes bullies, shows everyone up, and becomes a hero in everyone’s eyes. I find such books to be like cupcakes: delicious, but you can’t eat more than one or two at a time.
Instead, Karigan’s tale had enough elements of the wish-fulfillment fantasy to be truly enjoyable, while taming it in ways that made it more palatable. Karigan never does quite give in to her destiny, but her reluctance makes sense given the situation. The powers and abilities she grows into are interesting and plot-worthy, but not “oooh look at me!” grandiose, and she definitely needs to use her wits to survive and succeed. She overcomes the ill will of those who think ill of her or seek to stand in her way, but Kristen doesn’t feel it necessary to shove that success in the faces of all of Karigan’s foes—it’s enough that Karigan understand it. Karigan grows over the course of the story, but she’s never a perfect, flawless being; she’s human. The experience of reading Green Rider is more like biting into a sweet, ripe peach than the aforementioned cupcake—and I could eat peaches in quantity!
The characters are delightful. Karigan is a reluctant hero without being temperamental and childish in obnoxious ways. There are some quirky helper characters who aren’t just convenient plot devices, but fascinating mysteries unto themselves. The other Green Riders depicted all have their own merits, flaws, and histories, and the bad guys certainly keep things jumping. I absolutely love the character of Karigan’s father, and the role he ends up playing in the story.
The world-building is simple but elegant. Kristen uses the characters’ families, backgrounds, and abilities to bring out the plot-relevant details of the world so she never has to resort to info-dumps. As a result what we have is the bare bones of a world, but bones that so intimately underlie the story that I never felt the author was leaving anything insufficiently detailed.
I ended up reading Green Rider pretty much in one sitting and loved every minute of it. Next, on to First Rider’s Call!