The High King’s Tomb, Kristen Britain (DAW, 2007 {Penguin Audio, Narrator: Ellen Archer})

Grade: Δ — A solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.

In brief:

The High King’s Tomb is the third book in Kristen Britain‘s best selling Green Rider series. It is a solid piece of High Fantasy, but is unlikely to appeal to those who are not fans of the genre. Even so, it has many strong attributes, including the fact that one can pick it up without having read either of the previous books, and yet still follow the plot perfectly well.  Having said that, there is nothing particularly unique or novel about this novel, it follows down the road of well trodden tropes.[1]  As for the audio version… well read that bit below for a good ol’ rant.

Setting:

A classic High Fantasy world, populated primarily by humans, though there is a magical race of elves… oh excuse me Eletians (pronounce it out loud and you get Elysians… as in Elysian Fields), and horrible inhuman monsters kept behind the D’Yer (pronounced, Dire… get it? VERY subtle huh?).  An evil overlord call Mornhavon once held a thousand year war against the men and women of Sacoridia (our heroes’ homeland), and since then magic has been shunned in the kingdom. 

In Depth:

The High King’s Tomb is the third book in the story of Karigan G’ladheon, a Green Rider in service of King Zachary of Sacoridia.  Green Riders are the messengers of the High King, gifted with minor magical abilities and granted remarkable horses with whom they form a life long bond.  In this volume, we follow the continuing adventures of Karigan and her fellow riders as they face the developing threats that have plagued them from the beginning of the series.

Unlike most books in such an on going saga, one can actually pick up this novel without having read the previous two, and follow exactly what is going on.  This is accomplished without the use of massive info-dumps, preludes or other such tricks of the trade, but rather through the very fine skill of the author in providing back story within the plot of the tale. 

Having said that, I would not suggest beginning this series with The High King’s Tomb. For one thing, while this volume does have a beginning, middle and end, it is not really a stand-alone novel.  One does get a sense of completion at the end of this tales (no stupid George R.R. Martin cliffhangers as it were), but it is clearly part of an on-going series and one would probably get a better feel for the characters and the world if one starts at the start (Green Rider, 1998). What is more, even within that context, this book is a bridging story, clearly designed to link the end of the previous novel (First Rider’s Call,2003) and the newly released Blackveil (2011). 

That is not to say it does not have a story of its own; it most certainly does.  Rather that much of the function of this tale seems to be providing additional information and an arc within the series as a whole.  To that end, it is an entertaining enough story, but somewhat meanders its way through the narrative as characters undergo personal development rather than face the unbeatable foes of the previous volumes.  Oh there is great magic to be overcome in this book, but to be honest, the drastic stakes one is up against only really comes to bare at the end of the tale, with no foreshadowing before hand.  At the climax of the book, Karigan suddenly finds herself facing a truly apocalyptic force that we had no idea even existed until it appears and is summarily defeated.  To me, it came across a bit like a token “oh yeah, I think we really must fight something big and nasty at the climax huh?” thrown in at the end of an otherwise character driven book.

As for the world itself, well… it is certainly interesting in its own way, but somewhat standard High Fantasy fare.  Call them what you will, there is a race of Tolkienesque Elves (Eletians) that wander in their magical way through the tale.  What is more, several elements in this book (not so much the previous volumes) came across to me as… well, Dungeons and Dragony; Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons to be specific.

The Green Riders suddenly seemed to be Rangers, the Weapons (guardians of the King and the High King’s Tombs) are either Fighters or Paladin, there is a character called the Ravenmask who came across very much like as a member of the Thief or even Assassin class, and while there are no clerics, Magic Users clearly come to the forefront here.  Indeed, they are even called Magic Users at one point (it was an audiobook, so I don’t know if it was capitalized).  This could well be due to the archetypes within the genre, but to my old Gamer’s mind, it seemed derivative of the gaming system.  This was compounded by the use of apostrophes’ and misspelled words to create proper nouns that sound like words in English, but that look different (e.g. D’yer Wall… as in dire wall). 

While I am the last one to say there is something wrong with basing a book off of a game, nor the use of archetypes, the heavy reliance on such tropes[2] made me think this world would not appeal to anyone who was not looking for a High Fantasy adventure of that sort of gaming world feel.  If you are searching for such a tale, then I would consider picking up Green Rider and following this series from the start.  If you like that book, then this story does a great deal to build the world, conflict and characters introduced.

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Can you tell me why, oh why, do Audio producers choose to use American actors if 90% of the characters speak with a British accent?  I don’t understand it.  I mean, there are thousands of extremely talented British voice talents out there, so why use an American if they’re going to fake a British accent the whole time? 

Voice Talent Ellen Archer is an American with a perfectly clear and understandable narration when speaking in her own voice. It is little wonder why she has such a solid reputation as a much-sought-after talent. 

Unfortunately, her British Accents were not quite up to par for a book of this nature.[3]  Oh, she does an acceptable educated English accent, which works well enough for a single character, but her regional accents really grated on me.  As for her Irish Accents, which seemed to be randomly assigned to different characters, they sounded like an Irish Spring commercial rather than anyone I’ve ever head coming out of Ireland. Considering everyone in this story was British or Irish, except a handful of characters coming out of the Eastern Provinces (who were Russian or German or something), that proved problematic.

Now, I’m a dual national, who has spent a considerable portion of my life in Britain, and a reasonable amount of time in Ireland, so I do have an unfair advantage.  But if the accents in this book set my teeth on edge, I can only imagine what it would do to a denizen of the British Archipelago.  Of course, I’m sure that Ms. Archer thinks she can do a good accent.  There are a great many American’s who think they can do a really convincing British Accent,[4] but really they can’t. It may be good enough for a single character, or even a handful of characters, but when the VAST majority of characters are British, why not have a British narrator?  If you want some contact details, I’ll put you in touch with them.

So, suffice it to say that while this book had a very good production value, and a clear reading of the non-character portions of the script, I found the use of character voices distracting and irritating.

Of course, had the accents been American, I think that the narration would have been brilliant.  After all, I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure that Sacoridia was never part of theBritish Empire.  As a result, they could all talk like Austrailians and it would be fine.


[1] OK, technically, archetypes, but in writing and lit circles, they constantly use the term trope to mirror archetypes instead of its traditional meaning, so I’m using the term here because it scans.

[2] Look!  I did it again!  Listen, I know… I’m being seduced by the dark side: Tropes ARE the playing with archetypes, not the following into archetypes… but I needed a word and it don’t have time to dig my thesaurus out of whatever box it’s packed in since the move. 

[3] Or I suppose, they are up to par, which is the problem… par is pretty high… assuming we are using a golf metaphor, low if we use a high jumping metaphor and that means where the bar is set.

[4] And an equal number of Brits who think they can do a good American accent and can’t… but that is a rant for a different book.

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Cycle, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Saga, Series, Stand Alone Novel, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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