The Riddler's Gift by Greg Hamerton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I read a really good book, it's hard to write a review, because my words don't measure up to what I have read as an example of good writing. But, I do my best. Let me make it clear that I'm hardly a critical scholar when it comes to fantasy. Before I added this to my epic fantasy shelf, I checked out the definition of epic fantasy. As I read the description of epic fantasy elements, I ticked off a mental checklist, and this book fits all the descriptions of epic fantasy. Of course, as I said, I'm not an expert, but I felt that Mr. Hamerton wrote a story that took what was expected in an epic fantasy read, and did it very well, writing a story that mattered to him and captivated me as I read.
The Magic System
Interesting, and very complex. The magical system was one part science, one part high mathematics (those parts had me scratching my head a bit), one part spiritual, and one part philosophical. At times, it went a little over my head, but that’s okay. I like to feel that I don’t have everything all figured out when I read a book. I liked that the magic had rules to it. The magic couldn't come out of nowhere. It had to have a source, and the source could be depleted. In essence, even the most powerful wizard or magic-user could be magicked out. There was balance, although the ‘dark lord’ character, Cabal the Darkmaster, wanted to take that balance and shift it so he controlled all the magic available, so he could rule over all the lands. Thankfully, the good guys are fighting to keep that from happening.
The main character was a young woman named Tabitha Serannon. She was an endearing person, seemingly normal and not overly endowed with any particular strength, or so it seemed. Her gift was not something she thought greatly of. Her talent for music, and a good voice. If anything, it was a way to provide a living for herself, and it made her happy. Her mother was a Lightgifter (essentially a type of good magician with the power to heal using the force of light), and she one day hoped to follow in her footsteps, finding her parents’ simple life as farmers not to her taste. As always, the yearning for adventure becomes a double-edged sword, and this young woman goes through a baptism of fire that is as believable as it is stirring. Although she has a bit of prodding along the way from a enigmatic figure named Twardy Zarost, otherwise known as the Riddler, nothing comes easy to this young woman. Through it all, I found her to be an engaging, likeable heroine. There is also Garyll Glavenor, the most formidable warrior in the land, the Swordmaster, who commands the Swords, an elite guard of warriors who protects the kingdom of Eyri. Love blooms between the couple, a love that is put to the test over the course of this book, each thinking they are not good or right enough for each other, and that life leads them in different directions. There is also Ashley Logan, an apprentice in the LIghtgifters who also will face a very harrowing experience in this novel. And Mr. Hamerton gives us a truly harrowing villain in Kirjath Arkell, a Shadowcaster who is given the job of retrieving the lost ring coveted by the Darkmaster. You can guess where the ring ends up. Mr. Hamerton brought these characters to life, and I felt their pain and suffering as they fought an epic battle against the forces of dark, with the power to overwhelm them from the inside out.
Mr. Hamerton creates his own world that has a medieval feel. There is an added dynamic, in which the world is partitioned based on the deleterious effects of a power-mad wizard. Most people don’t seem to know this save the eight wizards of the Gyre, who go through some incredible changes to keep this secret and to maintain a delicate balance.
I’ll try to keep this from becoming too much of a book report and keep it simple here. The most dominant theme here is that each person fights an intimate battle against evil. Evil is a slippery slope. It starts out as a selfish need or thought that can lead to corruption. Each character in this book fights that battle, and some fight to the depths of their soul against succumbing to evil. It was very painful to see what some of the characters that I grew to love as I read this story went through, how they suffered, and their struggle against the effects of an evil that had worked its way throughout the kingdom. Although this message could seem fatalistic, I don’t take it that way. In fact, there is hope in knowing that we do have a choice. It might not be easy, but we can choose to do what’s right. We might fall, and fail ourselves and others, but that doesn’t mean the war is over. We pick ourselves up again to fight the next battle. So there is always hope, in the end.
I want to thank Mr. Hamerton for the opportunity to read his book. Fantasy is one of my all-time favorite genres, but I am expanding my palate, trying to decide what I like in the various subgenres. So his offer to read his book was definitely one that I wanted to take him up on. Additionally, I like discovering gems in the literary world. Books that don’t get a lot of exposure, but are wonderful reads. This is definitely one of those books. His writing was lovely. There was an ease and a beauty to Mr. Hamerton’s use of language. He showed a poise in his use of language and the writer’s craft. I was completely engaged with this story, even to the point where it hurt physically to read some parts. When the story took a very dark turn, I didn’t despair, because I felt that I could trust Mr. Hamerton to bring to fruition a story that had a shining heart, which was what stood out to me from the beginning, despite some of the very dark elements. To be honest, I felt that this book was scratching the surface as far as potential for further stories, as there were elements that were left unresolved. But, I was satisfied at the progression and the conclusion of this story.
When an author approaches me to review his/her book, I am always crossing my fingers, hoping that I will enjoy the book and give the author some good exposure. After The Riddler’s Gift, I am happy to say that I loved this book, and I would recommend it to fantasy readers. From a layperson’s perspective, I would consider this good quality fantasy, and I doubt that many readers would find much at all to be disappointed about herein. I would guess it would be quite to the contrary, instead. At any rate, I know I enjoyed it immensely, and now I am waiting to read the forthcoming book(s) in this series.
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I've had the pleasure of reading both books in the Lifesong tales and I must admit, Hamerton totally blows my mind with the sheer inventiveness of book two. I'm a big fan of travelogue-style quests, and some of the landscapes I encountered are still etched in my mind.
That's great news, Nerine. I am hoping I get to read book two soon.
Thanks Nerine, I'm fascinated by landscapes because I spend my weekends flying over them on my paraglider. Because thermals keep me flying, I'm obsessed by sunshine on dark rocks and that probably comes out in my writing, in a metaphorical kind of way ;-). Magical things that lift you up, dreams that go beyond the horizons. That sort of stuff.
Daneille, thanks for a detailed review. Was that a five star hint for a review copy of Second Sight? Done.
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