Redux Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
High fantasy released by Penguin on September 3, 2019

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier book coverEighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and is a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the kingdom will be thrown into disarray. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision—and the consequences may break her heart.

This fantasy novel is well written but wasn’t for me. I enjoy fantasy novels and this has spies, traveling bards, druids, fairy folk, and more. I really wanted the story to work for me but it didn’t. I stopped reading just past the halfway point. I expect others might like it though.

Content warning for descriptions of past child abuse and associated trauma, current child abuse, and attempted sexual assault.

The Harp of Kings is told from the points of view of three characters. Point of view changes with each chapter. The three POV characters are around 18 years old and on a mission (with two experienced spies) for this gang of spies/warriors they’re hoping to join. Brocc and Liobhan are siblings and Dau is the third spy-in-training. Dau and Liobhan have a pretty intense rivalry among their group of trainees and they have to work together on the mission despite that.

It gets a little confusing right at the start because they use fake names for the mission but use both real and fake names when talking to or thinking about the others during their POV chapters. While the passage of time is clear in the story as they’re approaching the deadline to finish their mission, I was frustrated nothing was getting resolved. More information just meant more questions about the mission and what was happening in the royal family and court, with the druids, and the surrounding area. And there’s family histories for Brocc and Dau that hang over the whole story (or the first half I read anyway). I needed some resolution, even just some answers to minor things to stay invested in the outcome.

I read a little over half the book and decided to call it. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere fast with this read. The chapters were short but I kept checking like “how many more pages?!”. I had an epiphany at about the 30% mark about why the book wasn’t working for me but wanted to try to see it through. The big issue for me is there’s no humor. Nothing—no snark, no joking, no teasing, no tongue-in-cheek comments—NOTHING! The relentless seriousness and intensity was draining any enjoyment out of the story for me. I get it, they’re on an important mission, blah, blah, blah. It was too much for me—I needed something to break the tension like humor or a romance or something and it never came (hopefully it does later because I can’t imagine another 200 pages like that).

The druids, the wise-woman, and the fairy were interesting but not enough to compensate for the awfulness of the royal family and court associated with the mission. The attempted sexual assault at a little past the 40% mark was another sign this wasn’t for me. I don’t think it was necessary—we already knew he was a violent, abusive man. I read a little more but after hours of trying to push through, I finally stopped reading. At this point I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish it. Disappointing read for me but I hope others enjoy it.

Grade: DNF

You can buy a copy here, or read another review of the book here.

Join the conversation!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.