November 07, 2007
Book Review: Green Rider by Kristen Britain
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 480pp
Pub. Date: April 2000
Series: Green Rider Series, #1
Sometimes it is good to go back and read the fantasies of my youth. When I received an advance copy of The High Kingís Tomb by Kristen Britain from DAW, I knew I needed to go back and read the preceding two books to remind myself of the story and to get that rush of enjoyment that rereading can provide. And that meant going WAY back. Green Rider, the first novel of this series, was originally published back in 1998!
Green Rider tells the story of Karigan G'ladheon, a young student and merchantís daughter, who is thrown out of school for besting a nobleís son in combat. Rather than seeking justice, she runs away, not knowing that in fact she is running toward her destiny as a Green Rider. Green Riders are the Kingís messengers, people endowed with magical abilities that allow them to serve their king in this capacity. In the world of Green Rider, magic used to be commonplace, but by Kariganís time it had fallen into disuse, and was limited to the Green Riders and a few others. Karigan, as she runs home, runs into one of these Green Riders as he dies from arrow wounds right at her feet. But before he passes, he asks her to fulfill his mission, and get the message her carries to King Zachary. Karigan agrees, and is thrust into a race for her life as she is pursued by the killers of the Green Rider, who have ancient magic on their side.
Green Rider is an epic fantasy in the traditional sense. It is based on a medieval European world with magic as a part its fabric. Karigan is a reluctant hero bent on saving her country, for love of it, and in hopes of returning home to the father she loves. However, Green Rider wanders in that intent. It seems that when Kristen Britain began writing, she didnít really have a direction for the novel, and by the time she discovered it, she chose not to go back and remove the portions of the book that donít add much to the story. In essence, the story lacks continuity, and Karigan is sent on side quests or meets characters or finds back-story to other characters that have little to do with the story as a whole. For instance, one whole chapter is spent on Stevic G'ladheon, focusing on him as he looks for his daughter. I assume that this was to give the reader insight into his character. But while he has a minor role in the final end battle, and the character building chapter might be helpful, we really can glean enough of his character from Karigan that it was unnecessary to spend a chapter on his search. There is also the time when Karigan spends the night in a Green Rider cabin in the woods. While this give us a little background about the Green Riders and Captain Mapstone, it does not tell us something we donít hear about before or after, and therefore could have been removed from the story.
Terry Goodkind had a great deal of effect on Britainís writing. She lived with the Goodkindís during the writing of this novel (even going so far as to name a river in the story Terrygood), and that effect can be seen. Those who like Goodkindís novels are likely to see his influence in the style of writing. It also feels a bit like Kate Elliottís novels, both in tone and setting.
Karigan is all Britainís though. Kariganís character is Britain herself, making this novel more like a strange memoir than a fantasy. When Karigan struggles with being thrown out of school, the reader will almost feel that Britain is telling her own story. This personal depth of feeling adds a great deal to the emotional thrust of the story. Kariganís fears and troubles will be understood be the reader, especially those of a female persuasion. Britain hints at possible rape (one wonders if there might be some of that in her own past) when Karigan is captured, although she avoids it by providing an antithesis female character who stops it before it goes too far, but who is also evil in a sense, although that perception changes as the story progresses.
Britain is also an early environmentalist. At one time, she worked for the National Park Service, and her love of nature and the desire to preserve it comes through in the story pretty obviously. In particular, the way she describes the lumberjacking town of North shows her contempt and disapproval of the way we treat our forests. It does not detract from the story in any way, though it doesnít really add much to it either.
But for the most part, this book is a straight epic fantasy. There is an elf-like analogue in the Eletians and evil races like the groundmites. The novel does end without wrapping up all of the issues, although Karigan ends up playing the hero, albeit reluctantly. This sets up the next novel, First Riderís Call, released in 2003. (Kristen Britain is a writer of George R. R. Martin slowness, but for the most part itís worth the wait.)
I reluctantly recommend this novel. I feel that you could probably read First Riderís Call without reading Green Rider, and not feel that you have missed overmuch. If you want some more back story on some of the characters of First Riderís Call and The High Kingís Tomb, then you might want to read Green Rider, but you could probably skip it. It is a decent novel, somewhat exciting; with some interesting characters (I love the Berry sisters). However, its slow and wandering plot line bring it down from a great novel to just a fine one. If you want to read Kristen Britain, I recommend beginning with First Riderís Call.