4 out of 5 stars.
Boy is this ever a fantasy-style fantasy. I have been reading a lot of books lately that have sprinklings of other genres mixed in, so it was a bit of a shock to read something that is so completely an example of its genre. This is straight up fantasy.
Lark is a homebody, loving nothing more than working in her garden, spending time with her grandmother and cousin, and avoiding eye contact with pretty much everyone else. She also has the sight and is one day treated to a vision of one of her townspeople being ripped to shreds by a troth, one of the horrible monsters that attacked her village when she was a child and killed her parents. Fearful of another attack, the village sends Lark to summon the Riders to protect them. The voyage sends shy Lark headfirst into adventure. She is a guardian of one of the four balancing elements of the world and she must rescue the symbol of her power from the evil Breeders. She is joined by one of the riders, Gharain, who is her Complement, and a gnome and a horse.
The most unique feature of this book is the prose style. Waugh has adopted an old-fashioned cadence to her writing that really makes her stand out. It is still understandable for weaker readers, but gives the text a bit of freshness and character it would not have otherwise had. Given the medieval-style setting of the novel, it complements the story and makes for an unusual reading experience, given the contemporary style of most YA fantasy lately. The prose is lyrical and poetic and was a pleasure to read.
Lark is also a nice contrast to some of the other protagonists I have been reading about in the last little while. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature tends to lean heavily towards very strong and competent protagonists. I love reading about strong, confident women and girls, but it is also nice to run into a protagonist who still has to discover her strength and would really much rather stay at home, avoiding notice. Since my experience with other book nerds is that we tend to fit that profile quite a bit, I enjoy meeting heroes that are more like me and my library friends. Yes adventure is all very nice, but couldn’t we just stay home and have other people go on the adventures?
The plot is very stereotypical bad against good with no surprises or twists. Lark goes on an adventure, meets some interesting characters, falls in love, defeats the baddies (sorry for the spoiler) and journeys home a hero, a little wiser for the journey. Since a lot of books have been breaking away from the stereotypical, Tolkien-esque fantasy, I am glad to see something coming through the publishers that is so old-school. This is a fantasy adventure that pulls no tricks and would be a great read for a starting fantasy reader who wants something true to the early days of the genre without having to actually read something from the 80’s.