In this prehistory, the world is populated by half-creatures such as Merlee, half-man half-fish, and Quetzal, half-man half-bird, as well as humans. It is because these special creatures are being slaughtered or captured that Second Singer Toharo sets out to enforce the treaty forbidding such activity. The “Singers” are diplomats and healers, whose songs have the power to heal, to calm, to excite, to cause laughter or tears. Behind these abuses is the Khizpriest, a scheming and powerful figure. He has a plan which involves capturing Rialle, a pre-adolescent novice Singer, the best student in her class and one who is sensitive to the songs of the half-creatures. Because she can talk to the Merlee, Rialle is taken by the Second Singer Toharo when he travels on a diplomatic mission.
The author has created a convincing world of humans, Singers and half-creatures. Since the point-of-view characters are two youngsters, on the cusp of adolescence, our view and understanding of this world and its complexities is limited. The notion that the Singers derive their powers of healing and persuasion from the different kinds of song they sing, is original enough to give the book a certain sparkle which it might otherwise lack. Other than that, the machinations of the evil Khizpriest and the actions of the youngsters in freeing the Karchlord, a child like themselves, is pretty commonplace stuff.
The Singers, isolated on the Isle of Echoes, evidently follow a lifestyle different from the other inhabitants of this world. In particular, they have Birthing Houses to which girls go as orderlies. Each Singer-woman is “expected to donate at least one child to the Birthing House, but…the children grow up without family attachments.” There is no indication as to who fathers these children, although presumably it is the Singer-men, but there’s no sign of what might be considered a committed pairing or family group.
The half-creatures are clearly sentient as they can communicate in words with those Singer-children who can hear them. However, they are treated as animals by most of the adults, and in particular by the manifest bad-guy of the piece, the Khizpriest. The mixture is slightly awkward as they do exhibit rather more animal traits.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.