The Riddler’s Gift by Greg Hamerton

Rating 8.7/10
Enormous fun to read and extremely easy to lose yourself within.

The Riddler's Gift is about a young woman whose life is changed by the talent she discovers within herself. It is about music that resonated in our blood, a song which might still linger there. It is about reaching for power, and the choices one has to face. In a time when the world was ravaged by chaos, one kingdom remains; ordered, isolated, protected. Then Tabitha Serannon awakens an ancient power and the world begins to change. She is hunted for her talent. The Shadowcasters whisper in her ears as their evil closes around her. Soon the Riddler walks beside her, but is he on her side? She has a moment to learn the magic before she loses her grasp of the Lifesong, but the path she must follow leads into Darkness; into terror, treachery and desire. To survive she must give voice to a music that she hardly understands, an enchantment that will echo through all time.

Just how important are the first few pages of a book? Is this the only chance that an author has to grab and captivate their reader? Does the start set the tone for the rest of the book? The way a book begins is very important for a book, the first twenty pages or so helps establish the author’s skill and sets the benchmark for what is to come. There are not many books that start weakly and finish strongly but there are thousands that start strongly but fade away.

The good news is that The Riddler’s Gift starts strongly and maintains the standard throughout the 600+ pages. The opening chapters are excellent; the premise shows imagination and the interest of the reader is instantly piqued thanks to an instantly involving story. The prose is skilful, showing attention to detail and a keen understanding of what the fantasy reader is looking for. The setting is medieval and the system of magic is well thought out; complex and inventive.

The plot involves a magical ring so it is impossible not to immediately compare the work to JRR Tolkien, the Riddler does also, at times, cast shadows of Gandalf. There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing your influences though, Tolkien himself shows his Nordic influences strongly within The Lord of the Rings; great storytelling is often a new take an established theme.

There are four main characters in The Riddler’s Gift. There is Tabitha, the innocent and naïve girl who holds the future of her world in her hands. There is Ashley, a young and mischievous Lightgifter (user of light magic) whose path crosses Tabitha’s. There is, of course, the Riddler himself who cuts an enigmatic figure; often infuriating, always appealing. Then comes Kirjath, the Shadowcaster – evil and depraved (and involved in the best chapters). These characters are all described in commendable detail; they think and behave as they should and breathe life of their own. In short, their behaviour has a natural feel to it  – this is testament to the author’s skill.

There is clarity between the opposing factors within this book; the Dark against the Light. As had already been mentioned; the passages relating to the Dark and featuring Kirjath really stand out:

“He pointed a crooked finger at Kirjath, and a fine thread of motes speared Kirjath through his stomach. Kirjath couldn’t resist the scream which broke from his mouth – there was a needle pressed into his spine, in a place so sensitive and fundamental he was driven near to madness.”
The Riddler’s Gift: Chapter 18 - Ravenscroft

The Riddler’s Gift is written in the third person; a story that changes between the perspective of Tabitha and the other main characters in the story. The land of Eyri is the setting - a magically sealed land, sealed to protect it from the evil wizard Ametheus who is destroying all the land to the South. It is a safe haven, a land thought to be pure and safe…

This is a big book; but necessarily so. There is no filler and the length is due to the need to fully explore all the threads of the story. My favourite moment of the story was the creation of a butterfly using magic:

“The clear essence swirled together, turned into a butterfly, and flew away. It had delicate, translucent wings that held all the beautiful fading colours of a rainbow wash, from violet at the tips, through purple and blue and green and yellow, right through to pale red upon its slim abdomen. Tabitha gaped after it. It flitted over the silken tree, caught the breeze above it, and was gone.”
The Riddler’s Gift: Chapter 28 – Atonement

As the book nears its climax the reader is taken beyond the confines of the shielded world and shown an area of desolation that hints at a pre-history worthy of the tale of its own. Greg Hamerton tells a very good story and he makes sure that he tells it in full. To maintain the readers interest throughout a story of the length requires no little skill – but Hamerton does it with ease.

The Riddler’s Gift is a highly recommended fantasy novel – enormous fun to read and extremely easy to lose yourself within.

Greg Hamerton lived in Cape Town where he wrote in an old green shed with many books and a stone dragon called Qwert. He is an outdoors enthusiast and enjoys soaring over clouds and getting lost in the mountains on his paraglider. He currently lives in London where he is working on the sequel.

The Riddler’s Gift is the first novel in the Lifesong cycle.

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