A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier is the third in a trilogy, and the latest in an extended series of lightly linked novels set in the same world. Despite this, it’s fairly accessible to new readers. While it will be most enjoyable to those who have been following the trilogy, it’s still a pleasant reading experience if you’re starting here.
Prince Aolu of Dalriada has disappeared without a trace. Behind him, he leaves his dear friend and bodyguard, Galen, seriously injured in the confusing encounter with masked men and the vicious crow people. His father turns to Swan Island, the closest thing this world has to secret agents, for help.
Liobhan is one of Swan Island’s best warriors, but her superiors don’t want her involved in this mission: Galen is her brother. She’s too close to it. But as time goes by, and no sign of the Prince is found, she’s sent to investigate the possibility that Aolu has stumbled through a portal to another world.
Liobhan is quickly distracted. Her older brother, Brocc, is in trouble. He’s been trying to communicate with the crow people, and build a peaceful relationship. These very attempts, however, threaten to bring harm to him and those he loves most. As Liobhan rushes to save him, it becomes clear that Brocc’s dilemma is linked to the Prince’s disappearance.
This is, perhaps, the tenth Marillier book I’ve read. Her greatest weakness is that sometimes her plotting is obvious. This novel is one of her better ones, and most readers won’t be overly surprised by the ending, nor will they see every beat of the story coming.
Marillier has built a complex and detailed world, rooted in genuine historical knowledge of pre-Roman Britain. Her novels (which tend to run in trilogies) are all set in this world, with characters who are the focus of one appearing in others in little more than walk-on roles. This is historically credible, given the relatively small population of the era, and the fact that Marillier is writing about characters who would have been part of an even smaller elite. Readers will find it easy to immerse themselves in this world; it’s believable, even with magic woven into the story.
Readers who have read more than one of her novels will find that the reappearing characters and their history add some depth and additional nuances to the plot and characterisation. However, new readers will get enough information that they’ll still be able to follow the plot easily, and won’t feel they’re missing much.
The characters are strong and diverse. I felt their internal voices weren’t particularly individual – they all sounded the same to me. This is a problem as the novel is told in chapters narrated by different characters in turn. I had to concentrate a fair bit to remember which character’s head we were in; it didn’t come naturally because of the sameness of their voice.
However, characters act in distinctive and individual ways, meaning they’re generally quite credible. It’s only when we’re in their heads that they’re difficult to distinguish.
The fantasy elements are well woven into this. Some earlier Marillier novels were closer to historical fiction than fantasy; here the balance falls towards fantasy. It’s an important part of the story, drawn in such a matter of fact way that the two elements meld seamlessly.
Readers of the trilogy so far (I’ve read volume two, but not the first) will find this a satisfying conclusion to the series. Readers picking this up as a stand alone will find it a little shallower, without the benefit of the story and character development in earlier novels, but are still likely to enjoy it. It will not be hard for them to follow.
This is a strong fantasy novel with an interesting plot set in a believable, well-drawn world that’s populated with credible characters. Both new and continuing readers will enjoy it, although continuing readers will undoubtedly get the most out of it.
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
Author: Juliet Marillier
Copy courtesy of Macmillan (2021)
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .