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Singer in the Snow
Louise Marley
Viking, 320 pages

Singer in the Snow
Louise Marley
Louise Marley has been a classical concert and opera singer for 15 years. She sings with the Seattle Symphony, has concertized in Russia and Italy, and is alto soloist at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. She holds a Master's Degree in Voice. Her novels include the trilogy The Singers of Nevya and The Terrorists of Irustan.

Louise Marley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Singer in the Snow
SF Site Review: The Child Goddess
SF Site Review: The Maquisarde
SF Site Review: The Maquisarde
SF Site Review: The Glass Harmonica
SF Site Review: The Glass Harmonica
SF Site Review: The Terrorists of Irustan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

The frozen world of Nevya experiences summer but once every five years, with the coming of a second sun known as the Visitor. The Nevyans are therefore dependent on quiru, the magical fields of light and heat generated by Singers. Mreen has just qualified as a Cantrix, and will shortly travel to the House of Tarus, where she will provide quiru for the inhabitants. Her quiru are exceptionally strong, such that a nimbus of light surrounds her constantly; but she is mute, though able to communicate telepathically (as can all Singers) and through sign language. A student Singer named Emle is assigned to go with Mreen and act as her interpreter for a time, before returning to Conservatory. Emle is highly talented, but frustrated that she cannot channel her Gift to produce quiru. Meanwhile, at Tarus, young stable hand Luke has his own problems, namely his stepfather, Axl. The hrussmaster is abusive towards Luke's mother Erlys, but she refuses to stand up to him. Luke fears for his sister Gwin -- and Gwin harbours a secret that could make those fears well-founded...

This is something of a generalization, but the main point of most fantasy novels is the story, with characters (however well-drawn they may be) a lesser consideration. Not so in this case: Singer in the Snow focuses primarily on the characters and their relationships. Happily, Louise Marley has created some memorable characters, notably Luke, who has to negotiate the precarious territory of growing up with a dysfunctional family and the first stirrings of attraction when he meets Emle. Mreen and Emle also have complex sets of issues to deal with, not least that each has the wrong idea about the other; but I felt that they were not portrayed as well as they might have been, finding them somewhat difficult to tell apart. I would have welcomed a little more conflict between them; perhaps Mreen should have been a bit more conceited. But I'm not here to review hypothetical books, and overall, Singer in the Snow is a welcome twist on the genre with some interesting characters.

I do think, though, that some of Marley's choices mean that she hasn't told her story in the best possible way. For a start, the book is about a hundred pages too long; the characters circle around each other for two thirds of its length, before the confrontations and developments we've been expecting take place in a couple of dozen pages towards the end. This leads to those developments feeling somewhat unearned (that is, they happen because they have to more than because the characters have worked towards them) and I also found myself wondering about small details, like why the Nevyans don't refer to coins but to "bits of metal", the most generic term possible. If they have metal at all, then presumably at the very least it has to be mined, implying some form of industry. Surely, then, they must have more than one use for metal, and have discovered more than one type of metal... I don't mean to insist that Marley should have explained all these details; my point is that I should have been so caught up in the story that such things wouldn't have crossed my mind. Had the book been shorter, it could have made all the difference.

I also feel that there are problems with the world of Nevya itself as a backdrop for this kind of story. This is a society with seemingly no enemies to worry about, not even wild animals; the Nevyans' main challenge is the cold, and they've come up with a highly organized and effective response to that. Yet there's very little sense of a world thriving beyond the Houses and the Singers, when one would expect something more. (A wider world may be revealed in Marley's earlier Singers of Nevya trilogy; I don't know, as I haven't read it, so I must base my comments on the present volume.) This has several effects: specifically, it undermines the final confrontation a little (I can't say more without giving a spoiler); more generally, it makes for a weaker coming-of-age story. Of course, it's up to the author how she presents her world; but I can't help thinking that the young characters' stories would be that bit more compelling if they had something to aim for beyond maintaining the status quo.

So, is Singer in the Snow worth reading? Yes, I would say it is, for it's a pretty good book. There's just the nagging feeling that, with a few tweaks, it could well have been better.

Copyright © 2006 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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