CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 16. . . .December 20, 2013
Calgary, AB: Tyche Books, 2002/2012.
144 pp., trade pbk. & pdf, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9918369-2-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-9918369-3-2 (pdf).
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Janet Johnson.
He's not dead! was her first glad thought, but anger followed. He hated me. He should have been glad to be rid of me. Why is he here? She almost pointed him out to the Prince, but something stopped her. Kalar had saved her on the Crag, after all; and with his background the Prince and his father might think he was connected with the "dangerous elements" Ar-Naathon had mentioned. Let him be, she thought. He can follow me all he wants. As long as he doesn't cause any trouble....
Edward Willett has written an exciting and fast paced adventure story in the style of high fantasy. Suspension of disbelief is accomplished by consistency of setting, plot, characters and theme.
The world of Haven is described in detail from the humble fishing village, Covedrift, where readers first encounter the story's heroine, Amarynth, to the opulent City of Havenheart with its palaces and grand architecture. Amarynth is not a princess, but she is an apprenticed Spirit Singer, a gifted person with the ability to guide dead spirits to their resting place. Consequently, she has an important place in the society of Covedrift. Kalar, a young man readers meet as they follow Amarynth's adventures, is also a respected member of the Haven social world as his father was a Guesthost.
The believability of the setting is further enhanced by the use of unusual words for the various animals in Haven, words such as therra for a horse-like creature. No explanation or glossary is given to help the reader understand what the author is referring to, but the effect is, nonetheless, successful.
In Spirit Singer, Amarynth is an apprentice who was being trained by her grandfather to lead the spirits of the recently dead from the Between World, a limbo-like state where spirits wait to be sung, to the Upper World. The story begins with Amarynth's grandfather, who, while singing a dead fisherman along the path to the Upper Level, encounters a dark and menacing mass which he calls the Beast in the Between World. Instinctively, the grandfather believes the mass to be evil and dangerous, and so he won't let Amarynth spirit sing. As a result, she doesn't complete her apprenticeship. When Amarynth's grandfather dies from the strain of the encounter with the Beast, Amarynth is left on her own. Because she is still an apprentice, she cannot assume her grandfather's important role in the village, and so she sets off on a quest to find a trained spirit singer in one of the neighbouring mountain villages.
As Amarynth proceeds on her quest, she encounters the Black Guards and learns about the Wanderers who are spirit singers that are in service to the Master, a very powerful Spirit Singer named Ar-Naathan. Supported by the Black Guards, the Wanderers rule like tyrants in the villages they sing spirits for by taking supplies and goods from the inhabitants under the pretence of "the better to serve". For reasons unknown to Amarynth, the Black Guards are after her, and, following a long chase across a mountain, she is taken prisoner by them. Though Amarynth escapes with the help of a bereaved couple who want her to spirit sing their dead child, she is hunted by the Black Guards once more, and her only way to escape is to climb a dangerous mountain path. On her climb, Amarynth nearly falls, but she is saved just in time by a young man named Kalar.
While Amarynth is recuperating in Kalar's hut, she is recaptured by the Black Guards and taken to the city ruled by Ar-Naathon and his son, Prince Ka-Raamon. Prince Raamon befriends Amarynth until she is taken to the temple to become a Wanderer, but when she refuses to accept the power of the Beast, she is taken prisoner again. This time, she is rescued with the help of Kalar and other people who were rebelling against Ar-Naathon's evil regime. While in hiding, Amarynth is told of a Singer in the Haunted Mountains and a mysterious message that asks for a Singer, one who had not yet sung, to go and seek the Messenger. Amarynth accepts the challenge, and the story concludes with a happy ending wherein good triumphs over evil.
Amarynth and Kalar are believable and consistent because they have both good and bad characteristics. Furthermore, both Kalar and Amarynth would appeal to the teen reader as they are both orphans left to fend for themselves. Kalar is quick to anger, and he is suspicious of people in general. Kalar does not like the Spirit Singers since his father was murdered by one of the Wanderers and the Black Guards. Amarynth is emotionally needy. She grew up without parents and is fearful of not finding love or belonging to the social community of Covedrift because of her Gift.
The theme of the novel is that good is stronger than evil. The author uses the simple device of clothing the evil Wanderers and the Black Guards in black and Amarynth and the uncorrupted Spirit Singers in white. Furthermore, the pendant worn by the Wanderers glows black.
Spirit Singer, which won the 2002 Regina Book Award, is an easy read with an exciting plot. My only concern is that some readers with strong religious convictions might find the ideology of the belief system upon which the story is based disturbing.
Janet Johnson is a retired librarian who has taught children's and young adult literature at the college and university level.
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