I’m gonna talk about one of my all-time favourite book series this week. Or at least, the first book in that series.
Green Rider is the first book in the series by the same name following the adventures (misadventures? Is that too much of a cliché these days? Do I give a shit? Hmm…) of Karigan and the fate of Sacoridia, a kingdom spiralling ever closer to war even as they deal with the re-awakening of magic in a country filled with people who either don’t believe in magic anymore or, if they do, consider it to be an evil thing and only used for such. Green Rider introduces us to the basic principles and starting point for all of this.
Karigan G’Ladheon is the daughter of a merchant, and is running away from school. She never particularly enjoyed the famed school of Selium anyway, what with skipping classes and hating the aristocratic snobs who were her schoolmates; when she wins a fight with a bullying, snooty rich kid (who happens to be the son and heir of one of the Province Lords in Sacoridia. Ouch.) and is threatened with expulsion and must await her father’s arrival, just sees it as a way out. Not wanting to let the buttwipe of a school dean tell a skewed version of the events to her father, Karigan takes off on her own, running away to meet her father first and tell her side of the story. Instead, she finds a dying man – a member of the Green Riders, the king’s messengers who are highly respected by the king but very few other people, and carry a pretty intense risk of being killed by the receivers of their messages if they don’t like them. The dying Green Rider passes his seemingly vital task on to Karigan, because she’s the only one actually around, and more over, she can see the brooch he wears, something only those accepted by the brooch’s magic itself can do. She’s technically already being made a fully fledged Green Rider, here, and she doesn’t even know it. The magic of the Green Riders is very hush-hush.
Taking up the duty as the naïve and actually pretty honorble girl she is, Karigan is set off on a journey that will shatter everything she ever knew about her life. She longs for Selium after this. She now must race her away across the country to Sacor City and the king on a rather intelligently belligerent but ultimately loyal horse, defeating unnatural monsters, battling her new-found fate, coming to grips with the magic the brooch has given her and it’s side effects, all the while being pursued by viscous mercenaries and the Shadow Man, the killer of the Green Rider who gave Karrigan her mission.
And wow, what a journey that is. The plot is fast enough to keep you gripped but never so much so that you get lost, which is a good thing. As you may be able to tell, it’s a large book and a fair amount happens. Regardless, the story remains exciting and engaging almost throughout. There are several chapters from perspectives of other characters, villains included, which is interesting, but they can also slow the progression down a little and jar some readers out of the story, myself included in my first read-through; you just really want to get back to Karigan. But this insight into other characters is ultimately valuable, if not outright important.
One thing I love about this is we get a ‘Strong Female Character’ in high fantasy actually wrote by a woman. It’s a lot rarer in this genre than you might think, at least as far as numbers are concerned. And she’s not this girl who starts out as a badass and is kickass all the way through. She’s got a little bit of training with the sword, but is by no means a match for the people after her (and is constantly reminded of her lacking in swordplay later in the series), and some smarts to get her by. But for a good chunk of the novel she relies heavily on luck and the help of outside forces to get her by. And okay, to be honest, even my suspension of belief was strained in regards to some of her lucky escapes; maybe a slight case of Deus ex Machina here, but Karigan more than makes up with it as she goes through actual goddamn character development. Again, a rare thing for females in this genre.
The plot is interspersed with a lot of great side-moments too, such as Karigan finding a – ahem – magically-enclined house belonging to two elderly sisters who are charming in a Disney-esque manner but manage to retain some element of spookiness. Maybe it’s the cursed-invisible house servants? The house and sisters themselves are a fantastic point of foreshadowing for future plot points in the series, which is especially impressive when you consider that Green Rider was expected to be only a stand-alone and not do well enough to become a series (my arse)!
The book is full of wonderfully snarky humour and some ridiculous laugh-out-loud moments (the horse, anyone), dancing with some real hard-hitting and emotional stuff. The magic is cool and unusual, definitely limited and with consequence as we find out quickly with Karigan. And what fantasy novel would be complete without mysterious, ancient, magical wood-folk? But despite the opinion of other fans of the series, I don’t think these are just the same old ‘elves’. Etletians are beautiful and magical and at least semi-immortal and do live in a woodland kingdom of their own, thought dead or the thing of myths for centuries. They’re starting to re-emerge alongside magic and the growing evil. But there’s something inherently flawed and dangerous in these Etletians that I find different from traditional elves. Maybe it’s that pesky Shawdell…
Something that irritated me about Green Rider, if I’m being honest, is Karigan’s flat refusal to accept she was a Green Rider. She had the brooch. She had the Horse. She used the magic. Hell, she even wore the damn uniform. There’s only so much foot-stomping a person can take.
Overall, an amazing book and a strong start to a fantastic ongoing series. If it seems like a rehash of the typical cut-and-paste elements of old fantasy tropes, read Green Rider. The links to Lord of the Rings and other fantasy series only make it that much more charming, and you’ll see that it has it’s own wicked twist and shine that make it perfectly unique.