The Riddle by Alison Croggon

Rating 7.7/10
A fun and intelligent read.

As happens from time to time, I have recently found myself ignoring the copious amount of fantasy books on my shelf. Sometimes it all just gets too much, and I have to revert to my Star Wars novels. However at the completion of Darksaber, I decided to make myself a pile of books that I was to read. On top, was Alison Croggon's The Riddle.

Book two in a quartet, the first being The Gift which I reviewed a few months ago, continues the story of Maerad, a 16 year old Bard, and fulfilment of an age old prophecy.

Croggon is writing the series within a very short space of time, with only months having passed since we are first introduced to Maerad. But the story never feels rushed, and leaves me simply wishing there was more. It's a nice feeling, considering that many books are both rushed, and leave me with a mass of information to digest.

The story further opens up the world of Barding, an interesting and intelligent take on the stereotypical “magic-user” in fantasy books. Instead of simply having a wealth of power within oneself, and blasting it out like a Green Lantern, Barding requires actual study and knowledge of not just the basics of the magic itself, but of the worlds balance between the Light and Dark. Croggon has put a valuable emphasis on the ethics of power, as well as making that same power necessary to be tamed and wrought with control.

Sadly, in my opinion, the book falls down in its storytelling. Far too often I found myself skipping whole paragraphs, even pages, and being able to continue on without having missed anything. Description is a wonderful thing, but it should be vital and necessary, not simply a chance for the author to use words like “dappled” and “archaic.”

Additionally, Alison Croggon reverts a little too often to literary tropes. The most obvious one in The Riddle being the “Oh no, my companion is dead, but I won't go look for a body, because I'm too distraught ... time passes ... Oh my, you're alive! What a wonderful surprise!”

I didn't like it when Tolkien used it, and I definitely didn't like it when it was used in the Riddle. It's inexplicable, unintelligent, and frustratingly common. I'm sorry, but I would always try and check to see if my best friend was dead.

All of that being said I was so compelled by this story that I have spent the past 18 hours – with only a break for sleep – reading the book. And I am relatively certain that, ignoring the 10 minutes I'll spend pottering around working out what to do, I'll be picking up the third book, The Crow, and reading that very soon.

This series is a definite must for anyone aged in their middle teens and up, who is looking for a fun and intelligent read. The tropes and info-dumps thankfully don't detract from the overall brilliance of what Alison Croggon is crafting.

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