Book Review: Goldsong (The Sagathas Bard) by Beth Hudson


Series: The Sagathas Bard, #1

Author: Beth Hudson

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

A reluctant king. A legendary harp. A city divided.

Traedis Atenel never expected to find herself a king. When she fled her city and her family, all she wanted was to become a bard and make her own way in the world. Now, touched by strange magic and harrowed by imprisonment, she rules the city she once hated.

Despised by its people, she embarks on a mission to reform what was once known as the City of Assassins. After all, she has spoken with gods, walked with dragons, and learned the mysteries of bardic magic. When a demon comes calling, it reawakens a curse that could destroy Traedis and her city.

Supported by her sister Vandeyr, a former assassin, and with the aid of an enchanted harp, Traedis uncovers long-buried secrets and forges alliances where she least expects them. But elemental spirits, ghosts, and hostile powers stand in her way. Some of them will help her. Some will oppose her.

Some of them are certain to be from her own family.

Rating: Interesting and layered magical world; simple but true characters; hard to read; wonderful story

The Short Review:

Traedis is a kind, courageous, generous, pure-hearted character. I enjoyed her simplicity and heart and her firm resolution to do what she sees as right, as good, no matter what the obstacles or arguments are. Though I found how overwhelmed by her family she is, even after all the time she has been away from them, to be slightly jarring. Traedis’ reluctance, if not inability, to actually wish or have harm done to her family is an important part of who she is, but it is a little old how she feels the desire to defend or stand up for her Uncle Cordelayne, as if he had no flaws, even though he’s done so much evil to her and she is trying to thwart him. However, it’s not as if her past is unreal and disconnected from who she is in the present. Her responses might not be those most people would expect from someone who has endured what she has, but she’s an integrated person and those experiences are part of her and her reactions and habits.

Goldsong is a book where some of the characters have darker shades to them, where people can be complicated or quite messed up or even evil (not that any of these is either-or), but where there is a fundamental goodness, a simplicity and purity that does not equate to one-dimensional or undeveloped characters. Where that simplicity and goodness is not a mark of inexperience or ignorance, but can face and grow through even the horrid things that happen, like a long, long lonely imprisonment or curses and some of the other things that happen. And the people, like Traedis, might not be perfect (is that a judgment that should even be made?), but there is a simplicity and purity to their goodness, a fundamental, unclouded goodness to their hearts. This is perhaps my favourite thing about Goldsong: Traedis’ unflinching determination not to compromise.

I really felt like there was a depth and truth to the characters. Sometimes I didn’t understand them, sometimes I wished I knew more about them or understood them better, but they felt like they were themselves, and it never felt like staying true to the characters was traded for plot or writing.

Picking up the book felt like picking up in the middle of a book or a series. Traedis has a huge back story of growth, development, and learning. I didn’t mind (notably, I often read series backwards or haphazardly, and I read books half-backwards just as often), but I did think it would have been helpful to have a “Previously” section like people sometimes put in sequels, even though this isn’t a sequel. At least a time line of important events in Traedis’ life could have been helpful.

Goldsong has a somewhat interesting plot structure. It starts in the thick of things (with Traedis newly made king), but it seems to have two primary plotlines going somewhat concurrently, one of which is resolved relatively early.

I really enjoyed the world-building and setting. It has a lot of depth and meaning to it. It’s very layered and full, encompassing the whole world. An example is the falmyros, the magic that ties the king to the land and gives the king knowledge of the land and the power of the land, and that makes Traedis the King of Tolin. I really enjoyed the music-based spellcraft of Traedis, her harp and her bardic spell-weaving. It was very interestingly done.

The world-building was also very beautiful, and full of creatures. The Great Air Dragons, and the Star Cavern, and there’s the King of Winter and Traedis’ blessing from him. I just thought it was really beautiful and inspiring.

In my experience, the book’s only significant draw-back was that it was hard to read. In many paragraphs, sentences don’t flow into each other smoothly or are often awkward and clashing. Words are used in awkward or not-quite-right ways. None of it is really bad, but it definitely meant the reading itself – rather than the processing of the story – was exhausting.

The Continued Review (Spoilers might walk here):

A good way into the book, Traedis gets to return to the Land of Ymre, the Wise Hound (by the way, I really liked how much Ymre is a hound, a dog, with a wagging tail and all that; I thought that was awesome!!) in order to speak to the Storm Eagle, the previous possessor of the falmyros of Tolin (as well as Haven), about a curse. Ymre (who by the way is also a star) decides to teach Traedis the beginning of rune magic. The conversation that follows is very awesome and here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Lord Ymre walked slowly to her side, his nails clipping the floor loudly. He nosed in front of her, pointing as if alerting a hunter to prey. “You make this too difficult. Look first at its shape, and no further. … Soon you will begin to see spirals where there were only circles to begin with.”

Traedis looked at him, startled. “That was my first reaction. Spirals and helixes. I thought I was being fanciful.”

Laughing, Ymre stepped back from the pillar. “Your instincts are good. Try not to talk yourself out of what you already know.”

And then this one line, also by Ymre.

“Try to avoid expectations or suppositions, and simply see.”

One of the things I absolutely loved was how Traedis stood against the Mother of Curses. I love her tenacity, her conviction, and her simplicity to see to the heart of things.

For some context, Traedis has recalled all the assassins, but the Council of Tolin made an agreement with one of the Old Powers, the Mother of Curses, a powerful demon, to kill someone in exchange for lifting a powerful curse that was the result of a bungled assassination. Now the Mother of Curses comes to demand that the contract with her is fulfilled and threatens that, if it is not, she will reinstate the curse.

Furthermore, before the gods, accepting even one contact was to admit that Tolin was still fundamentally the same city, meaning that every other sworn contract must also be honored.

This was not about a single contract; this was an attempt to restore everything Traedis had changed about the City. The Dance wanted Tolin to continue as their tool: a knife in the ribs, poison in the cup.

Something that made an impression on me from the beginning was how Traedis’ falmyros allowed her to get people out of a building that was about to collapse and help rescue people. I loved her magic, her bardic magic and how dedicated to that she is and how she can weave different magics together with it. I loved her falmyros, her connection to the land and her people.

I really liked the enthusiastic n’korreld prince Atchûk, adventurous and excited to see everything. I liked Ruth’s steadfast devotion. I enjoyed the Quo’at, both young and old, ageless in the body of a boy, and both ageless as the many lives he lived and remembers and young as the boy he appears, excited to see the Star Cavern, ancient treasure of his people.

I liked Traedis’ game of hide-and-seek with the Haven knight, Elben, both in the shapes of foxes. I enjoyed how her mind changes in the form of a fox and her perceptions and what she remembers shift, so she perceives the world like a fox. I thought that play was really good for her.

And I really enjoyed the final contest of song to protect against the Red Man of the n’korreld, called to avenge the blood of the prince Atchûk on Traedis’ Uncle Cordelayne and turn the Thane Bi’ia, Atchûk’s father, from calling the Red Man.

But first, here is the Quo’at’s response when Traedis apologizes, as if it is her doing, for what happened to Atchûk.

“This happened because several people made mistakes, not excluding Atchûk himself. You, me, Atchûk, even the Thane – all of us contributed to what happened, and it’s no one’s fault other than your uncle’s. You need not take responsibility for the stars in the skies or the tides of the earth.”

When she tries to sing to turn back the Red Man and to convince Thane Bi’ia to call back the Red Man, which only he can do:

Her falmyros, knowing itself endangered, surged into her magic, filling her with Tolin’s stubbornness and stone-deep refusal to yield. All of her precious country, the country that loved her beyond measure and justice, flooded Traedis. Rabbits and squirrels, veins of quartz-laded granite, quarrelsome nobles and cross-grained cattle farmed swarmed through her veins.

Also, despite the fact that Traedis is convinced that she was not the gods’ choice to rule Tolin, and that there are so many people who would be better, I think she is wrong. What Tolin needs is what she has and what makes her feel like she’s the wrong person for it: her simplicity and openness. The fact that she never did learn to conceal who and what she is. Never mind her bardic magic, perfected in the years of solitary confinement to an unrivaled pitch. There’s no reason to conclude others could have better bargained with the Nightdance and the Mother of Curses, and other might well not have been able to rip the curse free of the land.

Beth Hudson’s Website

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