The Crow by Alison Croggon
“It is only the darkness in our own hearts that will defeat us, in the end.”
Goodreads Summary: Hem is a weary orphan whose struggle for survival ends when he is reunited with his lost sister, Maerad. But Maerad has a destiny to fulfill, and Hem is sent to the golden city of Turbansk, where he learns the ways of the Bards and befriends a mysterious white crow. When the forces of the Dark threaten, Hem flees with his protector, Saliman, and an orphan girl named Zelika to join the Light’s resistance forces. It is there that Hem has a vision and learns that he, too, has a part to play in Maerad’s quest to solve the Riddle of the Treesong.
My Thoughts: This is my favourite book in the series so far. Everything about it just really worked for me. First of all, I really liked the setting of Turbansk. It was nice to have an entire book in which the setting and characters and culture were not eurocentric for the most part.
The worldbuilding in general throughout the series is phenomenal and creates such a strong sense of verisimilitude, especially with the songs and epics at the beginning of each part that establish an intricate history that fringes the main story. However, I felt this less in The Crow than in the previous books, perhaps because there was less of an emphasis on the main quest, which bases itself primarily on the history and lore of the land.
In this book, what I did love seeing was the struggle between the Light and Dark taken on from a different angle - not only from the outside like in the previous two books, but also moving within the Dark itself and looking closer into its workings. The slow reveal of its machinations as the book built on the threat of the Dark was really well done, and the plot itself was riveting and complex. It really builds and expands on the plot set up in the previous two books, and I feel that moving away from the main action centred around Maerad really helped paint a comprehensive picture of what is actually going on in the rest of the world outside her personal quest.
I loved following Hem’s perspective and learning more about his character, as well as Saliman and Irc and Zelika. They are all such vibrant, well-written characters, who grow and mature so much, and I found myself connecting with them a lot more than I had with the characters in The Naming and The Riddle. I think for this reason, as well as the faster pacing, I was much more invested in the events that unfolded, and there was a sense of urgency throughout that I never experienced while reading the previous two books.
This book definitely took a turn for the darker, but I have to say I really liked it. Not all the characters’ problems are solvable. Not everyone will survive. It adds more nuance to the strict black and white, Light and Dark duality that’s been set up thus far.
Overall, this series has a very Tolkienian feel to it, and adheres to a lot of the associated fantasy tropes, but The Crow really adds on to that and does a bit of trailblazing of its own, and that’s what I most enjoyed about this book. I would have liked to see more of an explanation for the basis of the magic system and how exactly spells and wards are woven and broken, but other than that I didn’t have any real issues with this book. I love the different perspective, the added insight into the central conflict of the series, and I’m really excited to see how this all culminates in The Singing.