The Gift – by Alison Croggon
A few weeks ago, I had one of those days where every book you pick up is disappointing, or not interesting enough to grab you, or just really not what you want. After trying three different new books to no avail, in frustration I turned to an older book, a favourite, a re-read that I knew would bring me out of my bout of book ennui. This was my experience re-reading The Gift:
Although she has dim memories of another place, a place of warmth and light and safety and home, Maerad accepts her lot as a slave in the remote holding called Gilman’s Cot. The Cot’s other residents think she’s a witch because of her oddly coloured eyes, so she is at least left well enough alone. But when she sees a man no-one else can perceive, and that man offers her a chance at escape: at something else if not necessarily something better, Maerad jumps at the opportunity. She soon discovers that the man, Cadvan, is a Bard of Lirigon, and that Maerad herself is more than she seems: more important and more powerful than she could ever have imagined.
So begins Cadvan and Maerad’s journey, an epic tale woven over four books in a beautiful, lyrical high fantasy style.
This is a wonderful story, and a perfect example of fantasy done right – multiple threads and contesting forces, well established characters with differing motivations, hidden secrets and agendas, a world in need and one slim chance to come to its aid. The writing is impeccable, drawing you into the story and keeping you invested in the troubles Maerad and Cadvan are facing.
Maerad was a powerful female protagonist before this became a renewed conversation, proudly predating and outshining Katniss and Clary, Caelena and Rose. She starts with no knowledge of her past and her significance in the greater scheme, but with a ferocious drive to find out. Cadvan frustrates her as often as he impresses her – cagey with information and too cautious for Maerad’s young curiosity. She is capable but not simply bestowed with uncanny skill by the author, and above all, she is extremely relatable.
Cadvan, too, is a familiar figure in tales of this sort, and a nuanced example of such; the sometimes reluctant mentor, grappling with troubles he won’t share, under pressure from many different angles, and yet doing his best to teach, to encourage and to keep Maerad safe.
I’ve read this book multiple times and always race through it. I find something new to enjoy each time, and the combination of nostalgia and new discoveries makes The Gift an intoxicating read. A great, solid, meaty fantasy story you’d be silly to miss out on.
Have you come across Alison Croggon before?
What book or series do you turn to when you’ve had a bad reading streak?