Book: “The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier
Publication Info: Ace, September 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher
Book Description: 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. . .
Review: It’s always exciting to receive new books to read. But I have to say, this was the most excited I’ve ever been to receive an advanced copy of a book. Juliet Marillier has been a favorite author of mine for about 15 years and I’ve read every single one of her books and own 90% of them (really, that’s just a reminder that I need to get on top of things and complete collection!). Plus, it’s the first book in a series which always brings with it an extra dose of excitement. Per the usual, I was not let down and was once more caught up in Mariller’s world where fairytales take on new life.
As the children of Blackthorn and Grim, Liobhan and her brother have a multitude of skills. But primarily they each are skilled musicians. Now training to hopefully be recruited as famed Swan Island warriors, they didn’t suspect that this particular skill set would be called upon so early among a band of fighters who often prize secrecy, fighting abilities, and overall efficiency above all else. But now in hiding as court bards, they each begin to discover that no mission is as straight forward as it seems, and their parents’ habit of finding themselves ensnared in magical mysteries seems to be a family trait.
As I said, it’s always exciting to start a new series by a favorite author. Over the years, I know that I can count on Marillier always delivering on a few key points: strong, intriguing main characters, a perfect blend of the fantastical and the historic, and a gorgeous writing that will make you feel as if you, too, are walking through lush woods filled with bird song and mysterious shadows. Here, all of those things were again on point.
As with her “Blackthorn & Grim” trilogy, this book is divided between multiple POVs. We have Liobhan, the headstrong, capable warrior who has more than a hint of her mother’s fiery disposition. Her brother, Brocc, who is the more talented musician between the two and sees a story in all that is around him. And Dau, a fellow trainee, who is determined to be accepted as a Swan Island warrior no matter what, knowing he can never return home.
I enjoyed all three narrators, though I definitely found myself more drawn to Liobhan and Dau. To some extent that is to be expected as each has significantly more chapters and page time than Brocc. And it is definitely Liobhan around whom most of the story and action hinge. I loved seeing elements of Blackthorn’s character in her. And her strong connection to her brother and tenuous, burgeoning friendship with Dau were both excellent. Dau, himself, was also intriguing as his story slowly unfolds and we begin to understand more about his past and what drives him now.
For me, Brocc was the weakest of the three. The way the story unfolds, his chapters are crucial to understanding all of the mystery involved. But I also wonder if there was another way to go about it as the way it stands now, especially towards the end where he essentially disappears from the story for a good chunk and when we return we learn that some rather significant events occurred that we the readers didn’t even get to see. It makes his chapters feel a bit superfluous, as if they’re there to serve the needs of the story, but don’t fully justify Brocc’s needing his own POV based on the character himself. It’s a strange thing to find in a Marillier book. But it was more of a minor mental question mark than a problem for my reading.
Marillier’s real strengths with characters often comes in the ways she writes the relationships between them, the friendships, the family bonds, and the romances. This one definitely focuses on the first two. Brocc and Liobhan’s bond as siblings was lovely and I very much enjoyed the growing friendship that formed between Liobhan and Dau, two characters that started the story very much at odds. I think there’s some strong potential for a developing romance here, and I’m excited to see where it goes. However, there was another romance in the story, and that one I had a bit more trouble with. It was fine, all things considered. But it also felt rushed and much of the connection that is formed happens off page and the reader is only informed of it after the fact. Again, odd to find in a Marillier book. I’m curious to know whether this was a one-off thing or whether we will see more of this relationship in the future.
I very much enjoyed the mystery itself. I was able to put many of the pieces together myself, but the way they played out was still quite enjoyable to read. The “villain” of the piece was quite good and there were some choices made towards the end in this regard that really did surprise me. I also enjoyed all of the Easter eggs to be found in this story. All of this talk about MCU and DCEU, etc. etc., it’s like Marillier has been slowly creating her own “Marillier-universe” and for longtime readers, there’s a lot of good stuff to be gleaned in this one. But it can also just as easily be read by first-timers as well with very little being missed.
I’m so excited for this series (have I mentioned that yet?) and think that this is a solid opener to further adventures. There were a few odd points with Brocc’s reduced number of chapters as compared to the other two and a romance that felt a bit rushed and weirdly off page. Perhaps the natural growing pains of settling in to a new story with new character. But other than these few quibbles, I was still captivated by this story. I enjoyed the mystery at the heart of the story and while much of it is resolved, there are still plenty of question marks left open for further exploration. And Liobhan and Dau, in particular, are both set up to be excellent protagonists. Fans of Marillier’s work should definitely check this out and fantasy fans in general will likely enjoy this book, particularly if you’re drawn to fairytales and the like.
We’re also currently hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book! Don’t forget to enter here!
Rating 8: Marillier delivers once again with a book where readers will feel like they, too, are lost among the trees and ready to find magic around every corner.
“The Harp of Kings” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books with Musical Instruments in the Title.”
Find “The Harp of Kings” at your library using WorldCat!