Legend of the Singer is the second series set in Areaer, but they can be read (for the most part) in any order. There’s no need to read Return of the Dragonriders before Legend of the Singer. There is no dependency between them. Legend of the Singer takes place about five centuries later, on the continent of Ellenesia.
The concept for Children of the Dryads, book one of the Legend of the Singer Duology, (though I had not chosen any of those names back then, and I no longer remember the original name for Children of the Dryads, though I think it had ‘song’ in the title), was first conceived while I was writing DragonWing, though it was not related to anything going on in DragonWing. I tried to write the first couple of chapters around then, but I never put very much into it.
I picked the concept back up a couple years ago now, in 2020, when I was itching to write but could not come up with any new plots. Every time I tried, the plot simply fell to pieces and I could not get anywhere. Everything just came to a dead end. So (inspired by a conversation between some friends that was tangentially related to one of the circumstances in the story) I picked up Children of the Dryads, which already had the suggestion of a plot, and from there it became something that was at once a lot like my thought at fourteen, and a lot different. I discovered things about my world, and the relationship between the dryads and the elves, that I had not dreamed six years earlier, and the plot shaped itself into something vastly different. A lot of things that could have been plot holes also resolved themselves, seemingly of their own volition, as I wrote the story.
In the original conception of the story, half-elven Tara-lin and her father, Sir Eldor, went to Nightshade Castle together to stop the half-elf prince (who was trying to make himself a wizard, but I don’t recall anything about the dryads being involved, or even if there were dryads) with the rest of the chosen company of Valor Knights. For a multitude of reasons, some very obvious, some not so obvious, that would not work, and I like what it is now much, much better. There have been a lot of different changes as well, which is not really surprising, because anytime I have anything that seems like a ‘plot’ before I write the story, it disappears like mist burning off.
The dryads are inspired by trees and the impressions different trees have left on me. I’ve been asked if they were inspired by Greek mythology, to which I can only answer that I know nothing about dryads in Greek mythology. The dryads of Areaer are Singers, and it is from them that the magic and the song of the elves come. One of my favorite things about writing the Legend of the Singer was exploring the dryads, as they are very meaningful to me. I don’t think anything quite like them exists in this world, but I do think that they are as like something that is real as I can imagine or understand. So it was a very interesting experience staying as true as possible to my understanding while writing a story with a lot of different characters that brought out different things. All the dryads are interesting, unique individuals.
Related to this, one of the things that is most special about Legend of the Singer (to me) and Tara-lin’s character in specific is that, being what she is and being connected to the song magic of the dryads the way she is, Tara-lin is bound by the same Pact that binds the dryads not to kill or harm humans. In other words, when it comes to her personal choices, she is pacifistic. But she is not at all passive, not at all a doormat or a rug. She won’t let anyone walk on her, she won’t simply let things take their course. She is perhaps one of the most naturally active characters I have ever met, and she can be defiant and even insulting when the mood takes her.
There were a couple other things I wanted to achieve in Legend of the Singer, though that is seriously the wrong way to put it. And, to be honest, some of its differences from most other things out there happened by accident and sometimes unknowingly. For example, the Valor Knights are assassin-skilled and assassin-trained and often function as assassins (though they are also highly specialized). I think I captured the air of them very well in the stories without even thinking about it, but describing what they are like to people outside of the stories is very hard. Sometimes, I wonder if ‘knights’ was the right term to use for them, but at the same time I doubt I could have done better. How else could I state so implicitly and naturally that they are supposed to be the embodiment of the ideals of honor, defending the weak, standing forever against the nightmare no matter what? To say, ‘Even assassins can have honor’ in the Valor Alliance would be like saying ‘Even warriors can have honor – look at the knights!’ in Europe (or a modern, mythologized conception of Europe; I don’t really know. I haven’t studied Medieval Europe and doubt I know much about it).
But that’s almost an aside. It does not receive any focus. It simply is that way, and I would not be talking about it if I had not recently read a story that I really, really enjoyed, but that illustrated to me how rare that concept is in most of the fiction I am able to find.
The relationship between Tara-lin and Alis is more of the focus. Tara-lin is the daughter of Eldor, a Valor Knight. Alis Luela is the daughter of another Valor Knight. Tara-lin meets Alis in the Valor Hall and the two of them discover that they’re both like each other in ways no one else they have ever met is, and unlike the other young women around them. They have the same sorts of interests, the same levels of interest, and then Alis reveals that her family is trying to force her into marriage and she just won’t. A friendship develops between them, one that is very strong, growing through a fair amount of tension and more than a few squabbles, as both Tara-lin and Alis are under a fair amount of stress and, for all the ways in which they are similar and understand each other in ways no one else does, there is also a whole lot that they do not understand about each other. It’s definitely not a romance; it is a friendship, and I would say that theirs is the leading friendship/partnership throughout the entire series, though it does not have the same primacy and time in Sorceress of the Dryads (being an already established relationship, while other things are going on) that it has in Children of the Dryads.
Another point is the relationship between Tara-lin and her parents, especially Eldor, but that is because Eldor, her human father, is the one who is going to die sooner and, anyway, is keeping an oath made before he met her mother and going into desperate danger. I really enjoyed writing that, looking at the issues that can happen with an elf-human pairing, and not so much between the elf and human themselves, as with their child, and I also really enjoyed writing a novel where a very good parent-child relationship is of utmost importance – so important that, without it, the plot could never have gotten started. Apparently, in a lot of fantasy and young adult fiction, the protagonist either has no parents, absent or useless parents, or bad ones. That is not the situation for Tara-lin (though it is for her best friend). Her parents want to protect her and make her happy, and all in all, they have actually done a very good job. There are no bad feelings between them, and they respect her. Sometimes, a story does not need to show what is wrong. Sometimes, it can show what is right, and one of the aspects of this story is that in primary place it shows what is right, but there is also a plotline where that thing is wrong. That was a really interesting interaction to write – or to watch, as writing is really a bit like watching for me.
Something else which is explored in Legend of the Singer is the way in which people are very, very different. This part is more of the focus in Sorceress of the Dryads, particularly through the interaction between Tara-lin and a certain elf Night’s Edge (something very like assassin). Tara-lin is a Singer, her magic and nature interwoven with that of the dryads. She must not kill, must not harm. To do so would break the Pact which binds the dryads, and binds her because of her connection to their song, and so would corrupt her and give the nightmare a place in her soul. And she has other needs that are related to what she is. The Edge of Night’s skills are the art of death – as well as of spying and sneaking. He wants to protect her in ways that she cannot be protected (just a note here: there is nothing romantic in the interactions between Tara-lin and the Night’s Edge, and I think that makes them so much richer and more complete; anything romantic would only obscure the situation and make it less). And so the question becomes, can they mutually respect each other and the other’s differences, and accept the fact that right and wrong are different for both of them?
In Children of the Dryads, Eldor takes Tara-lin – who is convinced that she will someday have to do dangerous, uncomfortable things because of her talent, and is worrying about everything – to the Valor Hall to be with him for a few months longer and see things with him. There she meets Alis, with whom she forms an instant friendship, as the two share similar interests and are similarly aggravated with their environments. She stops being vocal about her insistence on going with her father, and runs away with Alis after they leave. Thereafter follows a journey through hills and mountains, where Tara-lin learns of the dryads’ need related to her father’s mission, is taught by them, and helped by them. Tara-lin and Alis bond more closely, even though they quarrel and snap quite regularly. Even though they are more like each other than anyone else they have ever met, Tara-lin has no comprehension of what it is like for Alis, abandoning the culture and religion in which she is indoctrinated, and struggles to have sympathy for Alis’ total lack of familiarity with a more wilderness lifestyle and her panic and concern about things that are commonplace to Tara-lin. At the same time, Alis cannot begin to understand how Tara-lin feels about her father, or even how such parents as Tara-lin’s could be real and as good as they sound. The focus is on how Tara-lin and Alis bond and both of them mature, and Tara-lin’s relationship with her father and their mutual – but very different – protectiveness of one another.
In Sorceress of the Dryads, Tara-lin and the dryads defeat Anakrim, who has managed to do exactly what Eldor and his friends were supposed to be helping prevent ten years earlier, and situate himself on the throne of Elethri, with a piece of song magic unlike any the world has ever seen before. Tensions develop between the new rulership of Elethri and the Valor Alliance, and Tara-lin’s journey to delve the depths of her nature as a half-elf and a Dryad-Friend Singer becomes all-important, as she must stay true to who she is in the midst of many pressures. It is in this atmosphere that her relationship with the Night’s Edge, who worships her as the embodiment of the elven nature even while his arts and mindset are in almost direct opposition to her own, occurs. Her friendship with her parents, both Eldor and her mother, Lìrulin, continues to unfold, touched by her awareness of her father’s age, as does her friendship with Alis. So does her rapport with all of nature, stretching from the weather to the beasts, under the guidance of the dryads. And when her actions provoke a war which threatens Elethri, thousands of questions about life and meaning and loyalty beset Tara-lin, who cannot kill, cannot even intend to harm, lest she break the Pact of her magic.