Tanya Huff – Sing the Four Quarters
Read my review of book:
2. Fifth Quarter
Length: 410 pages
Started: 23 June 2012
Finished: 26 June 2012
Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I was pleasantly surprised by Fifth Quarter, so I was on the lookout for more of Huff’s books.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 July 2012.
Getting pregnant’s bad
enough without picking a
traitor for the dad.
Summary: When she was fourteen, Princess Annice was offered a choice: stay as a princess and marry someone her brother, the new king, found politically expedient; or to follow her heart and train to become a Bard – one capable of directing the elemental spirits – but give up all of her royal ties and privileges in the process. Annice chose the later without a moment’s hesitation, and although she hasn’t spoken to her brother in the intervening ten years, she loves life as a bard, and has become one of the most powerful singers in the Bardic Hall. But all of that changes when Annice finds herself committing treason twice-over. Not only is she pregnant (a condition that was specifically forbidden to her by her brother when she chose to become a bard), but the father of her child, the Duc of Ohrid, has been accused of plotting to allow hostile forces from a neighboring country free passage through his lands. Annice doesn’t believe the Duc capable of such an act, but she can’t go to her brother without revealing her own treasonous condition, so she must find another way to keep the Duc from his appointment with the headsman long enough for them to unravel what’s really going on.
Review: Solid, original, thoroughly enjoyable fantasy. There were a few bumps along the way, but there were also a lot of things that I really enjoyed, and on the whole I found this book highly entertaining. It’s got a subtle touch with worldbuilding and characterization, an original plot, a good wit, and a down-to-earth sensibility, and I frequently found myself wishing that I had more books like this: maybe not mind-shatteringly amazing, but solidly, reliably, readably good.
One of the things I liked best about this book was that it felt appropriately high fantasy, without having anything like a “standard” high fantasy plot. There was no quest to go on, no ultimate battle between the forces of good and evil, just a lot of sympathetic characters making understandable choices that wind up getting them stuck in impossible-to-resolve situations. Even the ostensible bad guy was acting out of believable (if not entirely sympathetic) motivations, but the beauty of the plot was that the majority of the dramatic tension originated from good people trying to do what they thought was right.
This was certainly helped by Huff’s skill at characterization; even with the royalty and the magic and everything, her characters felt like real people. No one is entirely good or entirely bad; even the good guys are cursed with stubbornness or short tempers or other frustrating character tics. The dialogue (and the prose style in general) is similarly down-to-earth, with characters able to have high-minded political discussions or lofty conversations about magic but still likely to mutter imprecations at the minor trials of everyday life. I also really appreciated Huff’s take on sexuality; it’s still fairly rare nowadays to have stories that feature bisexual / homosexual characters without making their homosexuality A Thing, and I imagine it was even rarer in the mid-90s. Annice could easily have been written as straight, with Stasya (her primary partner) being relegated to the role of best friend, and I applaud Huff for making the more interesting and potentially more controversial character choice. But what I thought spoke even more to the issue of diversity and acceptance was that Annice’s (and others’) sexuality was just taken as given by all of the other characters, not as something interesting or controversial or even worth remarking on at all.
My only real problem with this book was that the writing was occasionally a little choppy. Huff switches viewpoints frequently, which I don’t mind, but she frequently does so within a single scene, which I found to be somewhat distracting. I eventually got into the rhythm of the viewpoint switches, though, and really, I was enjoying the characters and the story too much for it bother me for long. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Definitely recommended for fantasy fans who are looking for a solidly enjoyable read that’s not a re-hash of something they’ve read a thousand times before. It may be on the backlist, but it’s not showing its age at all.
Other Reviews: I can’t find any! Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: “Was it something I said?” The innkeeper laughed as the young woman continued her headlong dash out the door, ignoring him completely.
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