Sunday, September 22, 2019

"The Harp of Kings"

Juliet Marillier is the author of twenty-two historical fantasy novels and a collection of short stories. She was born and educated in New Zealand but now lives in Western Australia, where she writes full-time. The strong elements of history and folklore in her work reflect her lifelong interest in both. However, her stories are character-based, with a focus on human journeys and relationships.

2019 sees the release of two new novels from Marillier. Her stand-alone folkloric fantasy, Beautiful, based on the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, was published in May. The Harp of Kings, the first book in a new historical fantasy series, Warrior Bards, was published in September. Marillier is currently working on Book 2 of Warrior Bards.

Marillier’s earlier works include the Blackthorn & Grim series and the Sevenwaters series, both set in a magical version of early medieval Ireland. She has won many awards for her writing, including five Aurealis Awards and four Sir Julius Vogel Awards, as well as the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Prix Imaginales. In 2019 she won the Sara Douglass Book Series Award for the Blackthorn & Grim series. Juliet is a regular contributor to award-winning genre writing blog Writer Unboxed.

Marillier is a member of OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) and her spiritual values are often reflected in her work – the human characters’ relationship with the natural world plays a significant part, as does the power of storytelling to teach and to heal.

When not writing, Juliet is kept busy by her small pack of rescue dogs. She has four adult children and eight grandchildren.

Marillier applied the Page 69 Test to The Harp of Kings and reported the following:
The Harp of Kings is set in an imagined version of early medieval Ireland. While competing for places in an elite band of warriors and spies, our three protagonists are sent on a secret mission. An ancient harp has gone missing from a royal court not long before a new king is to be crowned. Tradition is that the Harp of Kings must be played at every coronation; if this does not happen, the candidate will be deemed unsuitable for kingship. Under cover as travelling minstrels, the team infiltrates the court with the task of tracking down the harp and returning it before its disappearance becomes public knowledge. The task proves far trickier than anyone expected. On page 69 our main protagonist, eighteen year old Liobhan, has found herself up in a tree, in conversation with a small girl who is hiding from her nursemaid. Liobhan is a forthright, outspoken character, both expert fighter and talented musician. She’s fiercely determined to perform the mission well and earn acceptance as an elite warrior. We’ve seen no softer side to her up till this point. In this excerpt, the child has just asked Liobhan if she can play her whistle. (Liobhan is going by the name of Ciara for this mission.)
“I could show you another time,” I say. “If Máire says it’s all right. Do you know how to play?”

“You could teach me.”

This is not what I’ve come to Breifne to do. What can I learn from a small child? But maybe the nursemaid, or big sister, or whoever the slumbering Máire is, will prove a more useful source of information. The girl’s pleading eyes are like those of a neglected puppy. “I could show you how to play a few notes. It takes a lot of practice before you can play tunes.”

She picks up both bag and plaything and hugs them to her chest, regarding me solemnly. The skin of her face and hands is very fair, and her nails are clean. Despite the tree climbing, her long hair is shining and has been neatly plaited, though some wisps are escaping. This is not the child of a servant.

“Only, no music up in the tree,” I tell her. “I might drop my whistle, and it doesn’t bounce very well.”

“Oh. All right. I like that tune that goes fast, really fast, with lots of notes.”

“And everyone gets up to dance?”

She nods, expression still grave.

“That tune is called ‘Artagan’s Leap.’ It’s quite tricky to play. We might start with something simpler.’

“Can we go and do it now?”

“No, because we have to find somewhere quiet, and you have to ask Máire if she approves, or you might get me in trouble. Also, if I’m going to let you play one of my whistles, I should know your name. Mine is Ciara.”

The child whispers her reply just as a woman calls from down below, “Aislinn! Where are you?”

“That’s Máire,” Aislinn says, still keeping her voice quiet. “She doesn’t know about this tree.” Now she sounds scared.

“You go down first, then, and I’ll wait until you’ve moved away.”

She slides quickly off the branch, making my heart jolt in fright. But she’s as nimble as a squirrel; I watch her rapid progress down the tree with admiration, wishing I could still do things as swiftly and silently. Partway down she stops and looks back up at me. “Don’t forget,” she mouths.
Is this passage typical of The Harp of Kings? Maybe. With each of the book’s central trio taking a chapter in turn, it’s had to put a finger on what is typical. Although this seems a lightweight scene, the encounter is significant. Liobhan is making a connection that will prove vital to the mission. The reader meets an important new character in young Aislinn, and sees a different side to the ambitious, driven warrior as she employs humour and kindness to reassure the frightened child.
Learn more about the book and author at Juliet Marillier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

Writers Read: Juliet Marillier.

--Marshal Zeringue