|Sing the Four Quarters|
Date: 01 December, 1994 — $6.99 — Book
Interestingly enough, Tanya Huff seems to be the writing heir to Mercedes Lackey. One could make a transition from one author to the other and barely notice a blip in the writing style. That is probably why I like Mercedes Lackey so much upon encountering her for the first time. She's new but still familiar.
This novel is set in a country called Shkoder, a tiny little principality in which Bards (note the capital, just like Heralds!) are trained in singing the kigh, embodiments of the four elements. Each element has a Quarter, and every bard has a specialty in one or more quarters. With training, a person to whom the kigh naturally respond can get them to do things. A person who Sings Air can call up breezes or send messages. One who Sings Fire can raise or calm a blaze. Bards strong in Earth are good for assisting growing things, and those who Sing Water can divert floods and move ships. All in all, some handy talents.
Annice Sings all four quarters. She has just returned from a Walk, which is a circuit that is designed to help spread information and gather rumor. Annice, however, brought something else back... a growing pregnancy. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but Annice is the disowned sister of the king, barred from further issue. And to make matters worse, shortly after she returns a plot is set in motion to frame a particular person for treason... and that man just happens to be the father of her baby.
There's several cultural notes that bear looking at. In this country, as in many of the countries surrounding it, women are on a very equal footing with the men. They serve in the army, run shops, and get into trouble the same as their male counterpart. Also of note is the fact that there is no issue about same-sex pairings (if this bothers you, avoid this whole series)... and, more to the point, political joinings are made with no gender barrier and sometimes, with complete disregard of the preferences of those involved. While the latter statement is a common feature in history (marriage as a political tool was only in the last century or two replaced by marriage as a love match), there is nothing in our history that would allow for the former, as children of the match were as important as the match itself.
I'd love to see a reasoned justification for the absence of necessary children in political joinings. Maybe they just bring in a ringer.
At any rate, though Annice is most definitely not in love with the father of her baby, she still has to find out how he was framed and clear his name before her own life is endangered. Though honestly, her brother's not as implacable as she thinks.