Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper was a book I was looking very forward to reading, especially after the brilliant review my brother had given it. I picked it up a little while ago, and although it took me a while to read it (life has a knack for getting in the way sometimes!), the book never once lost its magic.
The world of Songs of the Earth is easily identifiable as medieval Europe, with its knights and the Church acting as head of state. Magic is as outlawed here as it was then and the Church teaches ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’. Unfortunately for Gair, he hears the Song, the source of magic in the world, and as such is arrested and questioned at length until the day of his trial with only one likely outcome: his death.
His survival surprises no one more than him, when instead he is banished from the city, a brand on his hand, and threats of death on his heel if he doesn’t leave soon enough or dares to ever return. But he doesn’t need to leave alone, finding help in a man named Alderran who offers to take him to where he lives, far from the Church’s capital. Gair, at a loss of what to do, accepts and follows Alderran on his journey home as he starts to learn more about the Song and how he may draw on it.
The rest of the book tells us about what becomes of Gair once he arrives on the islands where Alderran lives but I won’t say anymore from fear of giving away any spoilers.
Cooper presents us with a vivid world easy to imagine and immerse ourselves in. Chapterhouse is full of life, noises, and smells. It’s not simply a background there only for decoration; it is a place full of life that the reader quickly starts to care about. Same goes for the inhabitants of Chapterhouse, be they students or masters, it is impossible not to grow attached to some of the more prominent characters.
Cooper’s writing is one of the great strengths of the book and she doesn’t show any of the clumsiness that could be expected from a first time writer. The writing is simply magical, capable of whisking the reader away into the book and never quite releasing its grasp until the very last word has been read. No matter how long a gap I had in between reading session, just a sentence was enough for the magic of Cooper’s writing to draw me back into the book.
The story itself is like a gentle setting of the scene before the storm: we follow Gair in his daily life, grow to love those he loves, care for what he cherishes, and miss all the signs of the darkness to come in the same way that he does, only to be hit all the harder by it in the end.
But Gair’s part of the story isn’t the only compelling narrative and all the other characters that are given a POV are all wonderful in their own ways. I don’t think there is one of the POVs that I did not eventually get attached to: they are such real characters that seem ready to leap off the page and come to life in front of our eyes.
I don’t think I have the words to convey just how much I loved this book: saying that it is a magical book doesn’t seem to do it fully justice. Cooper mixes ‘slice-of-life’ with the intrigues of a greater plot with a fearsome enemy so well that we don’t even realise what is happening until it is too late and we are faced with the inevitable. The ending of the book particularly demonstrates how well Cooper has crafted her characters and her world. We care about what happens: we’re not just reading words on the page, we are there witnessing the events through Gair’s eyes, feeling his pain and his hopes.
I will unashamedly admit that I cried at the end. They were the most genuine tears I have ever cried when reading a book and, even now, when I think about the ending, I still get very emotional.
Songs of the Earth is an amazing book, and I eagerly await the sequel. It has been a long time since a book has made me care so damned much and I certainly hope that Trinity Moon will live up to the first book in that aspect!