Book Review: The Gift by Alison Croggon 

By  Turn The Page

‘Maerad is a slave in a harsh, desperate settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful Gift, a Gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now, she and her teacher Cadvan must survive a punishing and uncertain journey, battling with dark forces from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.’

Alison Croggon has crafted an extraordinarily detailed, unique novel. Those who are fans of Lord of The Rings and fantasy need only to look at the gorgeous cover to know they should definitely check this series out. Croggon is an extraordinary writer – The Gift is a rich tale of complex characters, vast lands, struggles and journeys, betrayal, mysteries, magic, and, of course, an age-old Prophecy.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Mainly because I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would; nor was I left feeling I simply had to get my hands on the rest of the series as soon as possible.

Maerad was a heroine I really liked. She is strong and independent and has a stubborn streak, but we also see her vulnerability  – suddenly pushed into a world she doesn’t understand, and forced into a life she never wanted, or even dreamed of. She is utterly dependent on Cadvan to teach her about her powers, her new life as a Bard, and for protection from the great dangers that now follow her. I liked her best when she held her own and got annoyed with one of Cadvan’s many moods (though I admit, that may be more of a reflection of my feelings towards his character than hers!) It was refreshing to have a female protagonist that had no romantic interests in any of the male characters, (though they might have had some for her). The concept of love and affection confuses and frightens Maerad after her harsh life as a slave and this felt far more realistic than having her fall for the first attractive man she meets. Nor does Maerad immediately become all-powerful and easily able to master her gifts. Croggon is clearly focusing on building up plot and character development slowly and realistically in this first book of this series.

Cadvan, though a trustworthy character, and a powerful Bard who discovers and looks after Maerad, I just couldn’t warm to. He was too serious, too moody, and often (I felt) quite patronizing towards Maerad, dismissing many of her thoughts and feelings and chiding her. As the main male character alongside Maerad, this is probably one of the ultimate reasons why I didn’t enjoy The Gift as much as I hoped.

Much of this first book is a journey, as we focus on Maerad and Cadvan traveling many many miles to various places of refuge. Croggon clearly has a very big, rich story to tell, of which these first treks are a part, but this type of story won’t suit everyone. Everything is described in great detail, and I found myself wishing the pace would pick up in several parts. I would have loved to have read more about Maerad’s life as a slave ( I found the very beginning chapter which briefly covers this, really pulled me in), or taken time to follow her lessons at Innail, a school for Bards, rather than have them leave for another long and grueling journey within a short chapter or two.

Overall, there was a lack of action (though plenty of intrigue and mystery that drove the story along) which I did find disappointing. I didn’t feel a great sense of urgency. I sincerely hope Croggon doesn’t pair these two romantically together in future books, as right now I just don’t see a relationship, even as traveling companions or friends, of equal standing. This may well change, however, as the story progresses.

I did really like the little extras that Croggon has put into The Gift, such as old nursery rhymes, the history of the kingdoms and the Bards, notes on pronunciation, and so on, that blurred the line between fantasy and reality and made the whole book something extra special. And I just love the names in this series ‘Pellinor’ in particular struck me as very beautiful and emotive.

All in all, this was a promising start to what could be a very exciting series. I can see from this first book lots of twists and complex storylines starting to form, and many more, I am sure, that have yet to reveal themselves. This will appeal to a very particular reader, as others may find it a bit hard going – worth checking out for yourself.

Recommended Reading Age: 14+