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“What you have said is true, my children. I have made these beings out of the shadows of the trees and in your likeness. In each shadow I placed a heart like the hearts of my children, so that they are not as animals are: they love and hate, and they speak. But neither are they as you are, for they are mortal. Each one will die, as a flower dies, and this is why they are unhappy, weak, fearful, slow-witted, ignorant and unseeing.
Iranor walks on the beach, an Immortal among the people in these early days of the world. She meets a fisherman mourning his brother lost at sea and asks him to teach her what it means to be mortal. Sue Bridgwater & Alistair McGechie have created a lovely fantasy reminiscent of theEarthsea books by Ursula LeGuin and the Celtic tales of the Fianna in SHADOWS OF THE TREES.
Kor-Sen is a small boy who lives with his mother Berget, a weaver, in a hot, busy town. When they are attacked because there is no man in the family, they move to a leather worker’s home in a different quarter and try to carry on with life. But Kor-Sen’s curiosity has been awakened and he starts to ask questions about why he doesn’t have a father. He is taught to read runes along with a girl who is taught in secret as the temple priests forbid educating girls. Meanwhile, Drewin and Saranna, the children of Iranor and her now-dead fisherman, are playing under the trees on the Isle of the East – but they are not immortal, and weapons can harm them as they are to discover when they travel to the mortal world.
The separate journeys of the three young people form a richly woven coming of age story, walking us among undersea denizens, showing us the humble life of fishing folks and elucidating the secretive ways of the Temple and Academy. Kor-Sen learns to seize opportunities, make life twist to his wishes. Saranna, like most women with few choices, goes through life accepting her fate and letting others decide her actions. Drewin learns about fraternal relationships and cunning. Each one meets and loses friends, and finds themself at the end of a journey changed from the start.
I enjoy that this fantasy departs from the usual heroic quest or fight against evil. We see people choosing paths in the dawn of the world. While we do not see magic worked, the fight against fate, demi-god heritage and circumstance is quite vivid enough to draw us in to the characters’ lives. Locations include a semi-sentient forest and an underworld, so contrast and creativity abound. This is the second story in the Skorn series (after Perian’s Journey) by Sue Bridgwater & Alistair McGechie and after reading the gently worded SHADOWS OF THE TREES you can look forward to another tale to be called THE DRY WELL. Fantasy readers who want something different to the usual run of sword and sorcery novels should enjoy the series.
Review from Amazon;
I enjoyed this gentle and searching fantasy set in an earlier time when, as with the Fianna in Ireland, an immortal woman travels to a mortal shore, meets a man, brings him home and changes destiny. (In Finn’s day, his son Oisin went to Tir na nOg with Niamh where he never aged, but on touching the soil of Erin again after many years he became an old man.)
The tale focuses on Drewin and Saranna, the children of Iranor the Immortal and her sadly mortal lover. As demigods, the children have to choose their course, but the choice is inadvertently made and they are banished (similar to the fall from Eden) to make their way in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world. Separated, they don’t know if the other is alive or if they will ever meet again. Drewin travels and learns, while Saranna as a girl in sparse communities has few options open to her and works her way up to run households. I could not imagine her leaving her own child behind, but demigods would be different to the rest of us.
We also meet Kor-Sen, a boy who learns to ask questions such as why doesn’t he have a father, and why can’t girls be taught to read. He later goes on to be well educated, but I thought he might have done more about seeing to it that girls could read. With a shrewd mind and occasionally finding himself among simple people, the much-travelling Kor-Sen applies himself to learning how to prosper, and finding a woman to suit him. He came across to me as self-interested which may be a product of his early life. We also meet other interesting characters.
If you’re tired of the same old heroic quests, or ever more complex magical power systems, this book Shadows Of The Trees is a refreshing change. Those who enjoy the sword and sorcery variety however will find it a slower read.