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VOYASixteen-year-old orphan Maerad leads a miserable life as a slave until the Bard Cadvan rescues her from drudgery. In Annar and the Seven Kingdoms, Bards are the keepers of the Light, born with the Gift of the Speech wherein lies the knowledge and forces of good that help mankind and Nature. Groomed in the Schools, Bards are the forces of Light that combat the Dark's evil power. Traveling together after fleeing the settlement of Gilman's Cot, Cadvan realizes that Maerad is a Bard. Cadvan is journeying to School at Norloch to see his teacher Nelac; he hopes to have Maerad instated as a Bard. Through folktale prophecy, prescient dreams, and an ancient parchment, it becomes evident that Maerad is the Foretold, the Fated One, who will ultimately triumph over the Dark. As Cadvan and Maerad travel through Annar, they are beset by Hulls, wers, and a wight, all minions of the Dark. They also encounter an Elemental spirit and kind residents who help the voyagers on their way. Croggon creates a superb epic fantasy in this first book of the Pellinor series, which is evocative of both the Arthurian legend and The Lord of the Rings trilogy with the added twist of a female protagonist. Compellingly readable, the story offers the reader both richly developed characters and descriptive prose that sparks the imagination. A plentitude of action and plot surprises ensure a riveting read. Unbelievably fine, this book represents fantasy storytelling at its best. This exemplary novel is sure to appeal to all fantasy fans. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2005, Candlewick,528p., Ages 12 to 18.