The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
Published: September 2019
Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.
Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . .
Thank you, Ace and EW+, for the digital galley for review!
In this new fantasy—laced with the uncanny, the Fair Folk, music, and Marillier’s natural ability to dive into the complicated layers of characters’ psyches, history, and motivations—Liobhan is training to be a Swan Island warrior with her brother Brocc when they are sent on a mission: to find the missing Harp of Kings and restore it to the druids before Midsummer’s ceremony to crown the next king. They travel with their competitor Dau under disguise and infiltrate the prince’s household—but the prince is…not the best choice to lead these people. Trigger warnings for assault and animal cruelty.
Each of our three warriors have their own story and motivations, and I identified most strongly with Dau and Liobhan. Brocc’s narrative reminded me so much of Shadowfell, and Liobhan felt like a warrior-version of Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest. They’re all strong-willed and determined to complete their mission, but because Prince Rodan is a threat to his people, they need the Fair Folk’s assistance to shine light on the true leader of the kingdom.
Diving into a Marillier is a treat, and this felt both familiar and refreshingly new all at once. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and I liked that the pacing was a bit faster than her usual style. That said, I do prefer her single POV, lush and beautiful writing narratives, too. Any one of her characters could’ve taken center stage — their voices and arcs were very distinct and well-developed.
Music, action, druids, courtly intrigue, and Irish faeries as they should be—what more could you want from a Marillier novel?
This qualifies as book 1 of my Gabaldon / Marillier challenge.