Kristen Britain,
First Rider's Call
(DAW, 2003)

The kingdom of Sacoridia faces dangerous times. The cursed forest of Blackveil appears to be awakening, and magic moves unpredictably through the land like a nasty force of weather. The Green Riders, messengers of the Sacoridian king, see their own magical gifts weaken or run out of control. Karigan G'ladheon, a Green Rider, is drawn deeper and deeper into events as the spirit of the first Green Rider, Lil Ambriodhe, tries to guide her.

This book stands on its own, though the references to previous events and the unresolved plot strands at the finish make it clear that First Rider's Call is part of a series. I have not read Green Rider, this book's predecessor, but allusions to that story are worked in unobtrusively and get the reader up to speed without confusion. However, at least one major plot thread is left open at the end of First Rider's Call. Perhaps this is only to be expected of an installment in a series but I found it annoying, particularly since the story's pacing makes it seem as though that plotline is going to be resolved by the book's end.

Although First Rider's Call has a busy plot with many twists, it is really a character-driven story. Karigan's friends and associates get plenty of screen time (especially her friend Alton D'yer's struggle to mend the wall around Blackveil), but Karigan is the undisputed center of the story. By turns brave, fearful, generous and petty, she is a well-realized heroine who is not too good to be believable. Britain takes the time to delineate many characters, even those having minor parts in the story. The plethora of characters from all walks of life (and death, since a number of feisty ghosts appear) gives a depth to the world they inhabit.

First Rider's Call's eventful plot and likeable characters are a big part of its appeal. It also has a touch of humor. The background is interesting; I particularly liked the passages about magical stoneworking. Britain is attentive to the social forces shaping the cultures in her world and her descriptions of natural settings are more than generic landscapes. Her combat scenes are sometimes jarring, but in such a way as to convey the shock of such encounters, and as a result they are very effective.

On the other hand, Britain's Eletians might as well be Elves and many names ring strongly of Middle Earth. Tighter editing would have helped the book, as on some occasions the story's magical mood is broken by an anachronistic turn of phrase. A king asking for a subject's "input," in a world without computers, is somewhat disconcerting. Some might find the story too crowded with characters, though I never had trouble telling who was who. The obligatory romantic subplot left me cold; it was a typical romantic complication with the expected agonizing by the characters involved. At least there were enough other things going on that I was able to concentrate on other plotlines I enjoyed more.

Fans of Mercedes Lackey's work will probably enjoy this book. The Green Riders and the Heralds of Valdemar have some obvious similarities in role, though the Green Riders' horses are rather different from the Companions found in Lackey's stories. Britain deserves credit for taking a situation with basic similarities to Lackey's work and marking it with her own style. First Rider's Call is worth heeding, whether or not you have read its predecessor.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 10 January 2004

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