Rialle and Kherron are about to finish their education at the Echorium on the Isle of Echoes, where they are training to become Singers-the mysterious people who use their songs both to heal troubled folk and to harm the enemies that threaten them. At the end of her training, Rialle is selected for a special mission to the mainland, singing songs to mermaid-like half-creatures called the merlee, whose own songs can either conjure storms or calm seas. In the meantime, Kherron, frustrated with the lack of freedom at the Echorium, runs away with a band of wild seamen who are killing the merlee and harvesting their eggs. Eventually, both young people reunite on the mainland where a corrupt government is intent not only on destroying the sacred half-creatures but also on using the Singers' own powers against themselves. Lyrical language is the book's greatest strength; many images of the half-creatures are truly lovely. Certain other details, such as the mainlanders' penchant for braiding their victims' finger bones into their hair, add depth to this imagined world. However, the characters are not sufficiently developed for readers to care about them, and their motivations are not sufficiently explained for readers to understand them. Although the chase sequence at the novel's end holds potential, it goes on far too long and never reaches a satisfying closure. This is the first book in "The Echorium Sequence," and a few truly determined readers may hope that further installments will provide additional resolution.
For years, the Singers have worked to restore the old harmony between humans and half-creatures. Living on the Isle of Echoes, they use their songs and bluestones to control the forces of good and evil. Normally their work is done on the Isle, but when the enemies of the Echorium grow strong, the Singers must take their powers abroad. Song Quest, the first book in the Echorium Sequence, introduces two young singers: Rialle, gifted with the ability to communicate with half-creatures, and Kherron, headstrong and brave. They journey to the mountains of the Karch where they use all their skills against the evil Khizpriest and his khizcrystal. Twenty years later, in Crystal Mask, Kherron is now the Second Singer, in charge of worldly business. Rialle's son, Renn, annoyingly pouty and petulant, also is gifted with the skills of communication. Evil again runs rampant on the mainland, and the power of the khizcrystal has returned. Treaties protecting the half-creatures are ignored. Street children and unicorn foals are kidnapped and forced into slave labor harvesting the black khizcrystal. Kherron again must battle the evil, this time with the help of Renn and Shaiala, a young girl raised by the unicorns on the purple plains. She is a wild thing, more inclined to kick her way out of trouble than struggle with human talk. As reluctant as Renn and Shaiala might be to cooperate with each other, only their special skills can defeat the power of the Khiz. Crystal Mask relies on the foundation laid in Song Quest, first published in the United Kingdom but released in paperback simultaneously with its sequel in the United States. It is best to read both books to gain a clear picture of the characters andthe world they inhabit. The glossary of terms at the back is helpful, especially in describing the centaur kicks and the Songs of Power. Author of Spellfall (Scholastic, 2000/VOYA December 2001), Roberts leaves the door open for another book in the Echorium Sequence. Reminiscent of Tamora Pierce's The Immortals and Protector of the Small series, this British import will appeal to the same audience. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002 (orig. 1999), Chicken House/Scholastic, 256p,
On Isle of Echoes, Singers keep the world running harmoniously. They make and enforce treaties with their neighbors to the east to protect the Half Creatures and others in the land. The merlee, half human and half fish, are being hunted for their eggs, because the Karchlord thinks they will heal him if he eats them. Rialle, a novice singer with great potential, hears the cry of the merlee and vows to help them. She goes with the Second Singer to Sivertown and the Karchlord's hold to see what can be done to fix the broken treaty. Another novice, Kherron, has run away and accidentally ends up in the same place. He is angry and must decide just which side he is on—the side of the evil Khizpriest, who is poisoning the Karchlord, or the side of the Singers, who would bring peace back to the land. This complex story is a compelling read. I cared about the characters, even the angry Kherron, and wanted him to grow up and come to his senses. I anxiously await the next book in the series, and hope that Rialle appears as one of the main characters, even though it is set 20 years in the future from this story. Stacey Conrad, (The Echorium Sequence, Vol. 1).. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Scholastic, 271p.,
Middle School Reading Teacher