The Riddle by Alison Croggon
The Riddle, Alison Croggon, Walker Books, Ltd, 2005
The second of a three book series, Pellinor, I found The Riddle can be read as a young woman on a classic quest or as a young woman’s coming of age. Both themes evolve over the course of the story with neither theme satisfactorily resolved at volume’s end. This is no drawback to the tale as the reader knows the third book is waiting at the end of this tale and can anticipate satisfactory resolution there. I find myself more in tune with the latter interpretation as Maerad, the heroine, is faced with three different versions of love gained and lost and must learn to accept all three lessons.
I thoroughly enjoyed my re-immersion in the Pellinoric world. It had been some time since I read the first volume, The Naming, but I had no difficulty reacquainting myself with the characters, the land, and the problem. I came away again appreciative of Alison’s linguistic skills, her imagination, and her ability to tell a story that keeps my interest.
Most important for me, I found myself totally committed to the Elidhu, fully appreciating the manner in which Alison draws their behavior without fully explaining what that behavior means. Even in the Appendix – which, incidentally, displays how thoroughly Alison has thought her world out - there is no definitive word on who or what the Elidhu are. What intrigues me is this idea of elementals above human ken whose motives are never understood, whose actions are always interpreted in terms of human motivations, and who may or may not be the crucial players on the world scene that the other characters believe them to be. Maerad decides “he – the Winterking around whom much of this tale revolves - is neither good nor evil. He has no great love for the Light, but I do no think he gives his loyalty to the Dark.” The other elemental in this tale returns from the first volume, Ardinia, and her actions carry their own mystery. At this point in the tale of Pellinor, I am quite satisfied with that mystery. I hope that quality endures through and after the Third Volume.
The riddle announced in this volume’s title is likewise a mystery yet to be resolved though, at this tale’s end, Maerad understands the nature of the riddle and has obtained the first set of keys to total understanding of what it means and why she must know. Her quest in this volume takes her to one of Alison’s best characters, Inka-Reb. “In the center of the circle was the biggest man Maerad had ever seen. He seemed almost twice her height and was enormously fat. His long black hair was plaited in a dozen greased braids that hung down to his waist, and he was naked, his skin smeared with what seemed to be a mixture of fat and ash. He wore a bracelet made of carved bone around his upper arm, and a pendant of black stone hung around his neck from a thong of leather. He was squatting next to a pot suspended over a small fire, in which he was cooking some sort of stew. He turned his head and stared at Maerad, and, very slowly, stood up.”
Irascible, and independent of most things of this world, Inka-Reb describes Maerad as a liar though she is, he concedes, unaware of her lies. When Maerad asks how she can tell the truth if she is unaware she is lying, he answers “precisely.” How can you not like a man who cannot abide dishonesty but is willing to tolerate a girl who doesn’t know she is lying. Later, Cadvan, her friend and one true love, tells her “We are all many. But most of us do not have the privilege of understanding that as clearly as you do. It is hard, to know oneself, but until we do we cannot know why we act as we do. It’s a lifetime quest and it never ends.”
Alison brings a real skill to describing the peoples of the North of Pellinor who Maerad must encounter and treat with in this tale: the Pilani, the Jussack, the Wise Kindred, and the wolves. Who they are and how they live, the economics, the politics, the environmental demands are all defined with meticulous attention to detail. Easily coming to mind is the Pelani reaction to news of a storm closing the main supply route from the south, what that means in the near and long terms, and what must be done to avert the disaster that could result from the passage closing.
Finally, I get to mention the treat involved in the Bard’s creation myth, The Song of Making. Maerad sings this ballad in the village of the Wise Kindred in preparation for meeting Inka-Reb and, oh, I do admire the procession of Dark to Light! As well, I admire how that myth ties in with the Riddle and the Winterking and Ardinia. Damn, damn, damn, that alone is worth the price of admission!
I summarize with a hearty “well done” to Alison and my strongest recommendation that you put up with the difficulty of obtaining her works. Get your copies now and prepare yourself for a great read.
Submitted by Stacey
After reading 'the gift' I had to read on and I'm glad I did, I found this book better than the first. At times it was a real tear jerkier and at others it was as if I wanted to jump up wave my arms in the air and scream for joy (for obvious reasons I didn't). Its a mix up of love and hate, joy and sorrow. When I was off school sick I had a choice, watch the TV or read 'the riddle'. What do you think I did? Well that's just a silly question.
In this book you can't help but feel for the characters. I can't wait for the next book to come out. Take my advice you will love it when you read it.
Submitted by Anonymous
The Riddle is a superb book, after being introduced into the world of Edil-Amarandh it is hard to stop thinking aboutit...
It is this world that is a pleasing alternative to the "middle-earth stereotype"(due to the many "inspired" by Tolkien's work). Ironically this book is actuallty closer to the infamous lord of the rings series than many of these copies. This is due to the story being as much about relationships as swords and sorcery.
The characters are lovely, the plot being clever and mostly unpredictable. The descriptions vivid and- you get the idea try the darn book !
Submitted by helena
The riddle is truely an award-winning book, and definately worth curling up with at night. Croggon takes this book in an unthought of direction into a world of magic and barding, this book easily challenged the likes of JK Rowling's 'Harry Potter' and Philip Pullman's 'Northern lights'.
The writing is gripping and enchanting, throwing you into a marvellous world of flawless discription and imaginary brilliance.
If you are looking for a novel to keep you reading for hours on end, look no further than Alison Croggon's 'the Riddle'!
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