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The Bone Queen Review

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Alison Croggon is perennially compared to Tolkien. It’s easy to see why: she has the same ability to construct massive, in-depth universes, with the same love of linguistic complexity, the love for creation, joy, and art, quests, descriptions of the world, the battle between life and darkness, and above all the conviction of the ultimate triumph of good. The triumph of hope: this is the keystone of Croggon’s work, and it is what pushes forth the suffering heroes, through trial and tribulations. That good, justice, light: that even when hounded and reduced to nothing, flickers like a stalwart candle, refuses to be exhausted by the world.

Of course, the most obvious comparison for the Bone Queen is with the rest of Croggon’s novels: the Pellinor series of Maerad and Hem. Croggon has distinctive traits in her stories: that good is clothed in poverty, as Maerad and Cadvan both commence their voyages from humble, poor, hard-working hamlets, where the poor are the moral and virtuous. Both involve a certain quest, an objective, a mission, that sees a small band take to the roads, have to rapidly become acquainted with higher elements of magic, and are trained by a higher mage, be it Nelrac, or Cadvan himself. And vitally, in both cases, it is a young, relatively little trained woman who bears the duty and necessity of confronting the plans of the Dark.

So perhaps the Bone Queen feels overshadowed by the other books of the genre. And one gets a sense that this does dog the book, even if it does its best to be its own volume and story: than on its cover is the comparison directly to Tolkien, and most read it in the hopes of another Maerad story. For these reasons, it is best read long after finishing Pellinor: so that you are able to read it on its own merits.

Crogan is an emotional writer: she focuses on the heights and lows of the feelings and sentiments of the characters and the scenes. Her portrayals of domesticity and coziness are wonderfully charming as one facet. The philosophy of the Light is the centerpiece of this affection for love and family, but it is Larla in Liragon or the simple life of miners in Jouin which are most marked by warmth, where the simple goodness of human life and affection shines out.

The battle between Light and Dark which the book focuses on is saved in part from ridiculousness by the attachment to these virtues. Even with it, at times it verges on melodrama: one of the most amusing drinking games for the book I think, would be to take a shot each time the word :horror” is said. The Dark is imbued with horror, but it becomes cheap to repeat it ad naseum: if everything is imbued with such a sense of horror, then the sensation must be deadened by it.

In all of Croggan’s books, the bards are filled with both pure and noble individuals and those who are - if not evil - at least arrogant and unlikable. One can appreciate that the bards are not universally good, even if they constitute a moral-spiritual elite in the lands of Edil-Amarandh. And it is refreshing that being arrogant and cold, like Enkidu, does not automatically mean that one is bad or evil. This is often conveyed in other books, including those of Croggon n, as a sign of flirtation with evil: one suspects intensely figures like Enkidu or Noram are corrupted to some extent at least by the Dark. While they are in fact, just the representation of bards being just as fallible as the rest of us, not evil, simply arrogant .Perhaps it could stand to have a few more plain, unremarkable bards, since there are few who are simply nondescript.

The idea of the social hierarchy of the book is fascinating, in its reflection of our world. Edil-Amarandh is a meritocratic society, where bards seem to arise mostly at random from the population, and are taken into the bard elites from a relatively young age. They do their best to help the broader population: they are benevolent, paternalistic, and yet benefit from their elite status. A natural elite, perfectly meritocratic, on the basis of an ability which can be clearly defined and identified. The comparison to our own society’s ideas is fascinating, since we bas our social hierarchy on the ideal of meritocracy, on those with talent scaling the ladders of economic success. Croggons work obviously draws from the monastery ideal and the demesne of Medieval Europe, but it seems most comparable in its basis of social order to a mirror of our own times.

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There could have been an interesting theme, of the distance between the bards and the common people who they serve, but also over places like Join who are peripheral to the world of the Bards, mired in hardship and poverty. What about the tensions between the bards and the people of Jouin? It seems like a particularly close parallel to good liberal looks at society: where everything is good and content save for evil foreign influence, in this case the Dark, and the solution is simply to be more benevolent, generous, and a better individual. Was Croggoan driven by political thought on our contemporary world? I doubt it, but I do think it influences her.

The characters are a great lot. Their emotions, relationships, fears, grief, loves feel intensely real. It seems natural, to see friendship, trust, respect blossom between Cadvan and Dernheil, and the fear, the wonder, the sadness, the grief of Selmana, Cadvan, Dernheil: this is all resonant. There are loads of minor characters, and these play their biting role, such as Cadvan’s brothers discussing the disgrace he brought upon the family. Sometimes the characters of the light seem too easily taken in by the ploys of the dark, but then they do live in a time of increasing confusion, confronting long-laid snares.

It would be impossible to discuss any Croggon book without mentioning her style and prose, the level of detail that goes into it. This is where much of the comparison to Tolkien stems, since Tolkien is famous for his love of languages, and Crogann adds in words in the created tongues of her books. But beyond this, it has a love of beauty and descriptions of it, of fair lands of the Bard Schools and their surrounding fesses (or demenses) that seem much akin to Tolkien and his style, and which resonate with beauty. Beyond the characters, this is one of the great achievements of Croggon: her love of beauty, and the way that it illuminates the book and makes for a world worth fighting for.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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