Completed 2/29/2020, Reviewed 2/29/2020
Sometimes I really like Tanya Huff’s books, sometimes I think they’re okay. This time, I thought the book was kind of average but I really liked it. It’s average because the magic system is not that spectacular: music as a way of manipulating the elements. I really liked it though because of what she did with it. The energy of the elements is called “kigh.” The main character only Sings water, but he is such a profound bard that not only controls water, but it responds to his presence and emotions as well. That’s what set apart this magical musical world. This book was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award for positive LGBTQ+ content in genre fiction.
Benedikt is a Bard with low self-esteem because he can only Sing water, while other Bards Sing more than one element. Nonetheless, his talent has caught the attention of the Queen. She asks him to be the Bard for a voyage into unknown waters to look for a fabled land of dark-skinned people. Everyone thinks this is crazy. The Captain of the Bards won’t let any of the Bards volunteer, though Benedikt accepts the challenge. Besides the usual dangers, sending a ship out without a Bard who Sings air means that there will be little communication from the boat and lack of control of the wind. On the voyage, the ship hits a hurricane. Benedikt controls the sea, but not the wind. The boat sinks and Benedikt is the only survivor. He ends up on the shore of a new Aztec-like land and gets caught in a political struggle between a powerful brother and sister as the dynastic order is about to change. Stranded, he must use his wits and his gift to survive both their dangerous ambitions.
I was pretty impressed by the character of Benedikt. I could relate to him because he constantly doubts himself even though he is extremely talented. Some might see him as whiny, but I see him as being very human. He knows he’s good at Singing water, but he’s intimidated by everyone else’s multi-quartered talents. It’s like how I long felt in my career. I know I’m good at what I do, but I was always, and still sometimes am, intimidated by others who know more than me. It wreaks havoc with self-esteem and takes a long time to get past. Sometimes, it takes getting through very difficult situations to finally see that you’re good enough.
I also liked the Aztec-like land where Benedikt was shipwrecked. It was very detailed and very interesting. It surpassed his European-like home in some areas, specifically art, but was worse in other things, particularly the cruelty of the rulers. Bards have the gift of languages as well, so Benedikt picks up their language with ease. This helps him navigate the dangerous relationship he has with the rulers.
There isn’t that much LGBTQ+ content, considering the award it was nominated for. Benedikt seems to be bisexual. And everyone seems to be attracted to him. But there’s only one person who has fallen in love with him, and it’s his thoughts of him that help Benedikt keep his wits about him. I would have liked to have seen their relationship develop more before Benedikt goes on the voyage. Instead, his love interest doesn’t realize how much he loved him until it is thought that Benedikt was killed in the storm.
It should be noted that this is the fourth book of a series. I didn’t read the first three, as I saw that the story followed a different main character than the first three. It more or less stands alone, but it did take me while to understand the concept of “kigh”, which probably wouldn’t have been an issue if I had read the first three. Other than that, I thought I understood everything else pretty well, especially since a majority of the action takes place in the Aztec-like land which would be new to all readers of the whole series.
I give the book four stars out of five. It might be a little generous, but I really enjoyed it. In general, I really like Huff’s writing style. Sometimes I think it’s fluff, but she does well with character development and world-building. Even though I’m fifty-fifty with three and four stars on her books, I’d definitely read more of her, throwing her books on my fifty-some-odd TBR book pile.