Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Reissued by Gollancz, April 2011; Originally published 1998 by Earthlight (UK).
Review by Mark Yon
In 1998, Kristen Britain had her first novel published. Now reissued in a lovely re-covered edition, along with the two sequels, First Rider’s Call and The High King’s Tomb (and with the fourth, Blackveil, due in paperback later in 2011), now’s a good time to catch up with the series.
Being over a decade old, perhaps unsurprisingly, my first impression was that Green Rider is determinedly old-fashioned, albeit smoothly written and charmingly positive. Its heroine, Karigan G’ladheon, is clearly heroic in the traditional fantasy sense that she is a young merchant’s daughter with a destiny, to be a Green Rider. Green Riders are King’s Messengers, the fantasy equivalent of the Pony Express, which powers of access above and beyond the normal.
The book begins with Karigan meeting a dying young messenger, F’ryan Coblebay, who has been ambushed in the Green Cloak wood. She is given the responsibility of getting F’ryan’s satchel to King Zachary Hillander, the King of Sacordia, with its life-or-death message. Told not to read the message herself, Karigan sets off to Sacor City to find King Zachary, or Laren Mapstone, the Captain of the Green Riders.
She encounters many difficulties along the way, fighting against many determined to stop her reaching the King, such as traitorous King’s Soldiers (called Weapons) and the whip-wielding Captain Immerez. She also has a number of allies: her trusty horse, known initially as ‘The Horse’, has an amazing (some might say unbelievable) knack of both bossing Karigan around and a prescience of dealing with all the problems that Karigan encounters on her journey. It is perhaps no surprise, looking at the new covers, that the importance of her horse to the main character, and perhaps to its reader, borders on an Anne McCaffrey-esque level of obsession. Meeting the rather dotty daughters of Professor Berry, Professor of the Arcane Arts, Miss Bayberry and Miss Bunchberry, shows Kerigan that she has unexpected allies beneficial to her. She also has the ghost of F’ryan appear at opportune moments to help and support her, as well as the brooch given by F’ryan which allows Karigan to make herself and her horse invisible, though at a cost to her energy.
On arriving at Sacor City the message is delivered. Kerigan also delivers what appears to be a love letter from F’ryan to the obviously attractive Lady Estora. The ‘important’ letter actually appears to be of little apparent importance.
Of course there is more here than meets the eye. In the end there is an attempt to usurp the king, which ends in a way that is not unexpected.
In summary, it’s a rite of passage novel, well-told, if somewhat imitative, even in 1998. Kristen’s real life background as a ranger helps fill out some of the details here and provides a more positively environmental aspect to the goings-on than many of this type.
I personally had issues with some of the names of people (Mapstone, Shawdell, Arrison, for example) and places (the River Terrygood, anyone?) and particular obsessions (horses!) which derailed it a little for me. But on the whole it did still entertain. It was pretty clear early on who were the good guys and who were the bad, and much of the fun was watching these likeable characters reach a logical conclusion. Those who find such tales a satisfying comfort read, or at least have not read many similar tales, will have much to like here.
Mark Yon, April 2011.