Book Review: The Mythology And Magic Of The Poet King Will Transport You To A New World
Ilana C. Myer wrote the first book of The Harp and Ring sequence to function as a standalone novel. Last Song Before Night came out in 2015 to much critical acclaim. A trip to Spain inspired a follow-up novel Fire Dance in 2018. Now the third and final book of the sequence is available. The Poet King concludes the story, with the knowledge that ‘many stories have come before these characters and many will come after.’ Myer said this in our recent interview conducted with her for Comic Years. Let’s delve into these stories, with our review of The Poet King.
Image via Tor
Character Is Key In The Poet King
The world of Eivar is beautiful and dangerous, full of old magics waiting to be unleashed. The novel opens with the protagonist of the first two novels – Lin – taking a backseat to the action. It is clear that she is still there, working behind the scenes as focus shifts to other characters. The star of the first half of the novel is the character of Rianna. She is a formerly spoiled noble who has undergone her own trials by fire to emerge hardened. She schemes to take down the figure of the Poet King, who rose to power in the previous book. Rianna can be a frustrating character, making bad choices that seem like her only option. But she is also cunning and clever. Her bravery often feels foolhardy, but it is hard not to admire her for making the hard choices.
A lone woman, residing at a court that has been conquered by an enemy ruler. She is far from her family and her (seemingly) traitorous husband. But she is loyal to her country, and to her friends and she vows to find a way to take back the throne. Rianna turns to the tools she has available to her, her own strength and cunning. But also her feminine wiles, as she seduces the Poet King she finds more than she bargained for. Rianna shows us what it means to survive as a woman in a man’s world, and the nuances to her character give this unexpected relationship deeper shades of depth and meaning.
It is to Myer’s credit that all of her characters are imbued with such complexity. There are very few black and white characters that represent pure good or evil. All of them have done terrible things, and made mistakes that have cost them and their realm terribly. But they persist in the face of overwhelming odds, in attempt to do what is right.
The Power Of Poetry
Magic takes different shapes and forms in Myer’s series. There is the magic of the Poets, who harness the power of words and music to evoke ancient enchantments. Myer drew inspiration from ancient Celtic poets, and “the concept of a society in which poets wield magical and political power.” That power can also be felt in Myer’s writing style itself. Every word is carefully shaped, every sentence is imbued with meaning and magic. The lyrical nature of the prose lends itself beautifully to the world that it builds. It builds like a symphony, all of the moving pieces coming together in a magical harmony.
In our interview, Myer described the three books of her series “as a triptych of portraits, works in their own right yet inextricably connected.” This can be broken down even further within the books themselves, that are separated into parts. Many of the scenes feel like vignettes. Painting a picture of moments in time that resonate with significance for both character and reader. There is natural flow to this type of storytelling, a dreamlike quality to some of these moments that only serve to enhance the magical nature of the story.
Image via Tor
The Magic Of The Otherworld In The Poet King
Alongside the Poets there are Magicians in this world, these characters featured heavily in Fire Dance but they are not as prominent in The Poet King. Instead we get to see a new kind of magic at work, the magic of the Otherworld and the Fae-like beings that spill over into Eivar from their own realm.
The timeless battle between the White Queen and The Shadow King is as close to a standard good vs. evil trope that these books get. And yet, even this battle is nuanced and full of shades of gray. Neither of these figures appear to be truly evil, despite the evil things they do and cause. Instead they are drawn as the inscrutably alien Fae that can be found in the old Celtic myths. Their intentions are strange, and their ways are mysterious. They do things for reasons beyond human understanding. The threat is simple enough to understand. Their powerful magic and endless battle is a greater threat to mortals than anything else our characters have faced thus far.
While I love the introduction of the Otherworld in The Poet King, I did wish we could have spent more time with these Fae characters. (Sidenote: Myer never refers to them as Fae in the text but that is how I view them in light of her inspiration from old Celtic texts). I would like to know more about their ancient battle, or the other realm they were confined to. Myer does an excellent job of giving the Fae some personality, while maintaining their mysterious allure. However I found myself wishing that I could understand them better as characters, their motivations and desires. I wanted to know more about their race, and where the history surrounding the Otherworld and the Poet’s enchantments came from.
A Study In Love and Grief
Another thing that Myer does very well in this trilogy is a study in what it means to love and grieve, what it means to lose and be lost. Myer does not flinch from character death in her work. Her characters venture to the Underworld and back several times before the end of the series. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is evoked and retold many times over the course of The Poet King. It exists in the world as its own myth – that of the poet Asterian and his doomed love. Myer told me that this myth was a natural inspiration for her. “The poet’s descent to the Underworld is therefore one of the most fundamental stories we have about what a poet does. He—or she—gets to the heart of things.”
And at the heart of things so often is the dual blade of love and grief. Myer’s characters love one another fiercely, despite the many betrayals they often deal to one another. This love transcends the boundaries of death itself. One of my favorite moments of the book is when Lin comes to terms with what she must do. At that moment she sees the faces of all those whom she has loved and lost, and draws strength from their shades. Her character has often straddled the boundaries between worlds, never fully inhabiting any of them. The culmination of her journey in The Poet King was truly satisfying to behold.
Image via Tor
The Harp and Ring Sequence Is A Perfect Quarantine Read
If you are looking for a new series to read during your time at home, I highly recommend The Harp and the Ring sequence by Ilana C. Myer. Despite the fact that Last Song Before Night can still be read as a standalone, I do think that this story gets better with every book. It is a beautiful world that Myer has built, easy to escape into. And her lush, lyrical prose was incredibly soothing to read. It drew me in, like a good song might do. It gave me emotional catharsis, like poetry often does. And it transported me away into a land where chaos and catastrophe can be quelled with bravery, poetry, and noble deeds. Like a good story often does.
The Poet King is out now from Tor/Forge. Thanks again to Ilana C. Myer for doing a short interview with us about this book. We look forward to seeing what she does next.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.