The Singer of All Songs: Book I in the Chanters of Tremaris Series

by Kate Constable

Published by Allen and Unwin

254 pages, 2002

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No Wrong Notes

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


There are a lot of young adult fantasy novels out there. The offerings vary. Some are excellent and become classics that kids read and rediscover in every generation. Tamora Pierce's Lioness books come into this category. They recognize that there is a difference between children's books and books for young people on the verge of adulthood. My own experience has been that books written for teens are usually read by 13 and 14 year olds, because anyone older reads adult fiction. There are also the games tie-ins which kids enjoy, but read only once. And there are awful Tolkien rip-offs that make you wonder how they ever made it past the slush pile. But how do you tell until you've opened and read the book? Often, you can't, and just have to hope.

Whether or not Australian Kate Constable's new series for young adults will become a classic remains to be seen but it is readable and engaging stuff. In fact,The Singer of All Songs -- first in Constable's Chanters of Tremaris series -- is constructed of the very stuff that makes for classic fantasy.

In the world of Tremaris, magic is fading away, with only a few places where anyone even remembers there ever was such a thing, never mind practicing it. At one time, there were nine different areas of magic, each corresponding to an element or a concept: fire, ice and things cold and dark, beasts, tongues, ironcraft, etc. Now there is hardly anyone left to do it.

The country of Antaris is cut off from the rest of the world by a huge wall of ice, maintained by the priestesses of the Goddess Taris, who still practices ice-magic. The heroine, Calwyn, is an orphan whose priestess mother had once run off and come home with a baby before dying of a fever. She has been looking forward to becoming a full priestess at the next dark of the moons (there are three), until the stranger, Darrow, arrives, wounded and feverishly muttering about being hunted, having somehow got through the ice barrier which the priestesses normally only open for traders. Delirious or not, Darrow is being hunted by a sorcerer who was once his friend. Samis wants to be the Singer of All Songs, one who can practice all forms of magic. He wants to control the world, and he doesn't much care who gets hurt in the process.

The premise of the elemental magics is nothing new, but are interestingly presented here. The ice magic, for example, is really only able to be performed properly by women, because it has to be sung at a certain high pitch that men just can't handle (which doesn't stop Samis from trying). Ironcraft, which is connected with the element of earth, is sung in a low, masculine growl. The fire magic is centered in an artifact which has been missing a long time and is found doing duty as a tricycle bell: a bit like the One Ring from the best of the Tolkien stories being used by a slimy creature to catch fish.

The novel is too short for the world in which it takes place to be fully realized, but its climate and geography are well sketched and while there are some recognizable flora and fauna, there are also some that, along with the three moons, remind you that this is not Earth. Hopefully we will learn more about the world and its cultures in the next novel. Readers who enjoy Tamora Pierce's work will be especially delighted by The Singer of All Songs. | July 2003


Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.