Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Seeker Chronicles by Betsy James

The Seeker Chronicles is the name of the series including the books Long Night Dance, Dark Heart, and Listening at the Gate, by Betsy James. These books have been in my to-read pile for months, and I am so glad that I finally got around to reading them. The series as a whole is tremendous, but I think that my favorite book of the three is the last one.
In Long Night Dance, the first book of the series, we meet Kat. Kat is the daughter of an Upslope man, a Leagueman. The culture of the Leaguemen is incredibly restrictive - singing and dancing are forbidden, women are kept covered and do not speak to strangers. Kat has taken care of her father and brother since her mother died, and she knows that she will be expected to do the same for a husband someday. Then when she is twelve she hears the Rigi's song. And her life changes. Long Night Dance begins when Kat is 15. It is a relatively short book, easy to read in just a sitting or two. I'm going to give away some of the plot in order to talk about the series as a whole, but I don't think it will change how you read the book.
The second book in series is Dark Heart, and it begins a year or so after Long Night Dance finishes. Kat discovers her mother's people at the end of Long Night Dance and travels with them to the hills where they live, in order to learn better who she is. But she does not fit in well in the town of Creek, and she struggles with their rules and rites of passage. There she also meets a young man who makes her question her love for Nall, the man she left in Downshore. Dark Heart is the story of her seeking who she is, and what she must do.
Listening at the Gate could almost be read without reading the first two books. It is much longer than either of them - three times as long probably, and contains an opening section that describes what happened in the two books that came before it. This book is the story of Kat's return to Downshore. She thinks that she has figured herself out, that she is ready to be a woman on her own terms. She leaves her family in Creek to return to Nall, the man she loves. But war and strife have come to Downshore, in the form of her father's people, the leaguemen. And the Rigi have their own war brewing. Kat and Nall must work together to try and heal their home.
Describing the plots of the books does not to much to explain how beautiful they are, how immersive to read. James is incredibly poetic, her words are a joy to read, not just for the story they tell. But the story is universal - it is of a girl who is trying to find who she is for herself, but who keeps settling for what other people tell her she is, or must be. Every time she thinks she has the answer, she is proved wrong again, and must finally learn to accept herself as the flawed human being that she is. She also must learn that everyone is flawed in some way, but that does not keep us from loving each other. The world that James creates, with all of its myths and songs and culture is very satisfying. These are books about how love and hope can bring peace to struggle and madness - highly recommended to anyone who enjoys fantasy, or a lyrical and poetic writing style.

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