Friday, 6 September 2019

Myths & Legends | The Harp of Kings Review + Author Interview


Myths and legends are like ink wells.

Writers dip their mental quills into these ink wells, drawing from them inspiration to construct their own timeless tales. There is a sense of the ancient - of mystery, wild magic and hidden depths to explore. And one author who does this so brilliantly is the incredible Juliet Marillier.

Juliet Marillier is a treasured storyteller.

Throughout my life my love of whimsical, wild magic stories has continued to thrive. I remember reading Juliet Marillier’s novel Wildwood Dancing for the first time and being swept away by what can only be described as storytelling magic. Her stories speak to me as if from a forgotten past - they feel like glimpses into old and mystical worlds. They hold a classic charm that failed to fade over time - instead, becoming all the more poignant and treasured.

Today's post is about her latest novel The Harp of Kings.

The Harp of Kings is an absolute gem of a novel and I'm truly excited today to not only be giving my review of it but to also be sharing with you all my interview with Juliet Marillier! Both the review and the interview can be found below.

A massive thank you to Juliet Marillier and the team over at Pan Macmillan Australia for helping organise this incredible interview opportunity + sending me a review copy of this incredible book to read and review.

So without further ado...let's get into it!

The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards #1)
By Juliet Marillier

Genre(s): YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Fiction

PublisherPan Macmillan Australia
Pub DateSeptember 3rd 2019
Page(s): 464 pages
Price: $29.99 (AUD - Paperback)

Rating5 out of 5 stars

My thoughts: My first impression of The Harp of Kings was this written by a mere mortal?!

This may sound like an exaggeration, but those who have read a Marillier novel before will understand. There is an air of The Iliad or the Aeneid about her works. The detail, the complexity of every single character - all the elements of her story weave a vivid tapestry that feels as if it doesn't belong to our modern world. You become immersed in her world and her characters from the first page, and this is no small feat. Rather, it is a testament to her storytelling sorcery.

This book is told through three perspectives: Liobhan, Brocc and Dau. I really love how across Liobhan & Brocc's perspectives you get a good grasp of the dynamics of their sibling relationship, which helps us as readers connect to them (especially emotionally, throughout their various trials). Dau's perspective is a nice shift in tone too and never felt out-of-place or unnecessary.

In fact, looking back on my reading of The Harp of Kings, something Juliet mentioned in our interview together rings true: "I [Juliet] write in the knowledge that every character is the centre of his or her own story." And it truly shows - no character feels two-dimensional or lacking in depth. Each one is their own masterpiece, brought to life between the book's pages.

Since this is a spoiler-free review I won't reveal too much of the plot, so it remains a mystery for all of you to uncover. However, I will say:

  • The song snippets are everything
  • I appreciate that character arcs and relationships are not fully evolved or stagnant. This leaves room for growth and further development in the rest of the series.
  • The ending had me close to tears (and dying for Book #2!)

Overall, there is true, heartwarming magic in The Harp of Kings that will stand the test of time. I highly recommend it to lovers of fantasy and of epic journeys whose characters will find a special place in your heart.

Find out more about the book & add it to your Goodreads bookshelf today
Find more information about this title on the Pan Macmillan site

“I cannot come with you wherever you go,
And I cannot stay by you in joy and in woe,
But I’ll be beside you, though gone from your sight,
I’ll love you and guard you till we meet in the light.”

The official book trailer can be seen below!

The Harp of Kings: Juliet Marillier Interview
Marillier-158smallerJuliet Marillier was born in New Zealand and grew up surrounded by Celtic music and stories. Her own Celtic-Gaelic roots inspired her to write her first series, the Sevenwaters Trilogy. 
Her lifelong interest in history, folklore and mythology has had a major influence on her writing. Juliet is the author of twenty historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults, as well as a book of short fiction. Juliet's novels and short stories have won many awards. She is a member of the druid order OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.)

Booknut: Juliet, may I just say that The Harp of Kings is a thing of beauty. Growing up I adored the Wildwood series for its vivid imagery and the way it seemed to capture the natural magic and charm so often associated with traditional fairytales. I found The Harp of Kings to be very reminiscent of the Wildwood series, with a winsome blend of folklore and fantasy elements. Were there any particular historical stories, or folklore tales, that inspired you during The Harp of Kings’ creation?
Juliet: Thank you so much – I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book. The Harp of Kings wasn’t inspired by any particular story, historical or traditional, though the tale Eirne tells about the harp is loosely based on Irish mythology, and Aislinn’s doll is named after a mythical queen of Erin. 
As for Swan Island, whose mysterious fighting force first appeared in some of my earlier series, there’s an old Irish story about a warrior woman, Scathach, who trained the hero Cu Chulainn in the art of battle. Her stronghold was on the Isle of Skye. I was delighted to open up the Swan Island establishment to women in this series and to include an outstanding female fighter as one my protagonists.

Booknut: Music seems to be at the very core of The Harp of Kings. Not only is the story centred around the retrieval of a precious harp, but its main protagonists include a singer and whistle player, as well as a talented harpist. My personal favourite parts however have to be the song snippets that are scattered throughout. They’re so poignant and layered with meaning. What was the writing process like for those?
Juliet: I love to write verses and song lyrics, and as I am a musician I do usually make up a tune to go with each. I find writing real poetry very challenging, but verses of this kind seem to come naturally, perhaps because I was brought up on folk music and still love to sing. I’m very happy that you liked the song snippets – there were more originally but my publisher made me cut them back! 

Booknut: The Harp of Kings’ chapters alternate between Liobhan’s, Dau’s and Brocc’s perspectives. I really like that as a reader you get to peek into the minds of these characters whose perspectives are different yet detailed. None of the perspectives seemed ‘less’ than the other – they worked together in a really beautiful harmony. Which was your personal favourite perspective to write from and why? 
Juliet: That is a tricky question!  I’m fond of all three characters and I loved creating an individual voice for each of them. If pressed on the issue I would probably choose Liobhan, because I love how passionate and sure she is about issues that matter to her – so much so that it sometimes gets her in trouble. I’d give the ‘most compelling’ award to a Dau chapter, and the ‘most fun to write’ award to a Brocc chapter. 

Booknut: On their journey in The Harp of Kings, Liobhan, Dau and Brocc all come across a variety of colourful characters and beings. I personally really enjoyed meeting Eirne, who was really intriguing and complex in nature. Which secondary character did you enjoy writing about the most?
Juliet: Definitely Mistress Juniper, the wise woman, though little Aislinn would be a close second. I love creating well-rounded secondary characters – I write in the knowledge that every character is the centre of his or her own story – and I enjoyed developing Juniper’s role as a person who stands between worlds, with an understanding of and connection with both the human kingdom and Eirne’s uncanny realm. Juniper is shrewd and down to earth as well as deeply intuitive. The relationship between her and the sceptical Dau was interesting to write. 
And of course, being a crazy dog lady myself, I love the dog characters! There are two in The Harp of Kings and two others in the second book, which I’ve just finished writing.

Booknut: Like many of your stories, The Harp of Kings features characters who – either directly or indirectly – engage in various forms of storytelling. Whether they’re listening to the tales of others, or imparting tales of their own through story or song, storytelling seems to be vital form of communication. What role does storytelling play in The Harp of Kings?
Juliet: I guess in a novel about bards, some storytelling was inevitable, along with the songs! But yes, I do tend to include storytelling in many of my books and it’s always for a purpose. In this novel, the mythical tale of the Harp of Kings, told by the druid Faelan to Brocc, gives us some vital clues to the story’s central mystery. 
But storytelling also achieves other ends in this book: a tale provides the opportunity for one character to put into words a painful personal secret; a tale told as part of a childhood game reveals critical information; a tale from the past casts insight on the present. The song lyrics mentioned earlier are another kind of storytelling. While our bardic characters sing to entertain people, the words of their songs are usually relevant to their own situation or feelings.

Booknut: When I read a detailed, well-worded story like The Harp of Kings I’m always tempted to bookmark every page! There are so many quotes that just resonate deeply with me, due to where they’ve been placed, the choice of words, and the impression they leave. Do you have a favourite quote from The Harp of Kings?
Juliet: I quite like this, from one of Brocc’s scenes: ‘I have walked willingly into the Otherworld, and now there is no way out.’ That is the scene I usually choose when I’m asked to read aloud from the book, even though it requires me to sing! 
And there’s a scene where Liobhan stands up in a council of powerful men and challenges them over their withholding of crucial information. She’s a risk-taker, and I love her courage and her passion for justice:
‘Nobody speaks. Dau’s words echo in my mind. Hold yourself tall. Tell the truth. “My silence can bring the harp back,” I say. “What is the purpose of your silence?”’

Booknut: Without spoiling anything, the ending for The Harp of Kings was highly emotional and bittersweet. I think the line “I’ll love you and guard you til we meet in the light” was particularly impactful (and may have made me cry a bit!). Did you always plan for The Harp of Kings to end in such a way (i.e. a cliff-hanger)?
Juliet: Yes, I did plan to end the book that way, though to me it doesn’t feel like a cliff-hanger! The Harp of Kings is the first instalment in a trilogy, and while each book has its own stand-alone story, the personal stories of our three central characters stretch over the whole series. Readers can be reassured that they will find out what happened next for Liobhan, Brocc and Dau, as well as some of the supporting cast. 

Booknut: The Harp of Kings is Book #1 in the Warrior Bards trilogy. The trilogy has been described as focusing on ‘an organization of elite operatives -- MI6 in a medieval-style fantasy world -- who use magic, song, poetry, weapons, and combat skills to solve crimes and protect the public’ [Publishers' Marketplace]. Are there any hints you can give as to what readers can expect from the upcoming books?
Juliet: Our protagonists face different challenges in each book. Things get more personal in Book #2, where one character must face up to the demons of the past at uncomfortably close quarters. Book #2 has two parallel stories, one unfolding in the human world and one in the Otherworld, and the two gradually converge. As well as music, this book contains monks, lawyers, fist fights, an uncanny ferryman and some ancient ancestors. Plus more unforgettable dog characters. Plenty of mystery and intrigue, with very high stakes for our central trio. 

Booknut: The Harp of Kings is the kind of book that can’t help but leave a lasting impression in its readers’ minds. If you could tell readers one message or moral of the story to take away from The Harp of Kings, what would it be?
 Juliet: Be brave, hold your head high, speak out for truth and justice. 

It was an absolute joy and honour to have the opportunity to interview Juliet and chat about the masterpiece that is The Harp of Kings. A massive thank you to her for taking the time to answer my questions.

What is your favourite myth or legend?
Do you have a favourite Juliet Marillier novel?

Let me know in the comments below!

Although I was provided with a review copy by the author and/or publisher, all opinions expressed in this post are purely my own. To find out more, please visit my disclaimer page.

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