Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings
The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier 
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2019
Paperback. 464 pages

About The Harp of Kings:

"Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan's burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies. 

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . ."

When I saw that Juliet Marillier had a new book coming out, I was beyond surprised and excited, and I was even more surprised when I granted access to it on NetGalley!

The Harp of Kings is a magical story of three trainees aiming to become elite warrors on Swan Island as they embark on an unpredictable and adventurous undercover mission to obtain an important missing item that could potentially affect politics in the region in momentous ways.

This book had a really slow start for me. When I first started, I actually found myself slightly bored at the school/training setting and the life of the students training there. It felt very overdone and like something I'd read a thousand times before, so it left me wanting more. Fortunately, things quickly pick up once these three students are given a secret mission to undertake--something that is probably unprecedented for those who are not yet sworn warriors. The story still took some time to get its bearings, but once it did I finally found myself sucked into the narrative.

The story alternates POVs between Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc, all three of whom are currently competitively training in the hopes of one day becoming elite warriors. Of the three main characters, Liobhan was probably the hardest for me to connect with. Her attitude was frustrating and I found myself struggling with her constant stubbornness and risk-taking. I did, however, appreciate how all three managed to stay in their undercover characters so well and in so many different situations, but there were still moments that made me question her actions when she went back and forth between obedience and straying from the rule of the mission. Dau and Brocc were much more complex and engaging characters and I felt that they had more development than Liobhan overall, which contributed to their fleshed out natures. Dau starts out as a rather unlikable character who I thought I was going to have trouble connecting with and even reading his POV chapters, but fortunately he really develops into one of the most developed of the entire threesome and has an incredibly layered backstory that I enjoyed unraveling. Brocc is similarly layered, though for vastly different reasons than Dau, and his storyline takes an entirely different turn from the other two. I genuinely enjoyed following it and discovering things with him as discovered them himself.

Marillier's writing style is one that is surprisingly simple and easy to follow, yet at the same time has a subtle beauty to it that makes it hard to stop reading at times. The Harp of Kings has a bit of a folktale vibe about it that made this story feel very warm and comforting to lean into--it's truly a great fall read. There's plenty of intrigue--both political and otherwise--but also full of fairytale elements and magic and mysteries. For those wondering, there are indeed hints of romance, but romance is not at all one of the prominent plot points of this book.

The political intrigue and the secret mission were some of the more compelling components of this plot and I liked how Marillier incorporated them into a larger story. The background to some of the politics is a bit complex at times and there was random bouts of info-dumping throughout the story that did drag the plot down somewhat, but fortuately it was still interesting enough to keep me wanting to learn more.

Despite everything I enjoyed about this book, I've really struggled with how to rate it. The largest of these reasons is that there was constantly something missing from the narrative. I can't quite place my finger on it, but I always felt some level of disconnect between myself and both the plot and the characters. It almost felt as if Marillier wavered between a beautiful, emotional narrative style and one that was more cut-and-dry and lacked much engagement. I still really enjoyed this book and would absolutely read more in this series, but I just have to comment on this weird disconnect I felt with the story at times. If I really made my ratings detailed, it'd probably be around a 3.8 or 3.9, but since I don't tend to go that specific, I'm rounding it up to an even four stars because when I look back on it I can't really pick out that many things that were negative about it.

If you like fae folk, undercover missions, druids, myth and tradition, and politicla intrigue, then this is absolutely a book you should check out. Don't let the potentially slow start stop you, there's a lot more to this book than you might expect. Overall, as I mentioned, I've given The Harp of Kings four stars!

*I received an ARC of The Harp of Kings courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested to see how I like this, especially since it will be my first Marillier book. I've heard from other bloggers that it's slow, so I'm slightly worried!