I was lucky enough to be sent to the Public Library Association conference in Indianapolis for a day last week – hence my posting silence! If anyone wants tips on the hottest nonfiction books for adults, animation maker spaces for libraries, or using social media to promote reading – let me know and I’d be happy to pass on my notes!
While in Indianapolis, Maureen of By Singing Light (who, like me, is a huge fan of Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin) was kind enough to meet me at my hotel and drive me to dinner when I arrived late and starving. Thank you so much for the lovely conversation, Maureen.
We now return to our regularly schedule book review…
Spirit Singer by Edward Willet. Tyche Books, 2012.
Amarynth is an apprentice Spirit Singer, in a world where Spirit Singers must guide the spirits of the newly dead must be guided to safety in the afterlife. It’s important work that she’s proud to be doing, though she regrets how much it isolates her from the other people her age in her remote village. But when some youths on their coming-of-age sea voyage meet with bad ends, her grandfather and teacher is unable to guide them properly: there is a Beast in the Between World. Soon, Amarynth is on her own, and decides to journey to the capital to find out who or what is behind the Beast, as well as the bands of roaming Singers in black who are taking over local villages. On the way, she tries and fails to sing a dead baby home, so that she is haunted by her ghost for the rest of the trip. She meets two young men: the suspicious Kalar, who helps her out of host duty but who believes all Spirit Singers are charlatans, and the handsome and charming Prince Ramon, son of Ar-Naathon. While Ar-Naathon is clearly the Big Bad, Prince Ramon claims to be troubled by his actions and also seems to want to help Amarynth. Who to trust, who to trust? And also, how to solve the big problem?
This is a classic quest narrative, with the originality coming from the parallel journeys in the spirit and the living worlds. While a lot of the other elements felt very familiar, it was still a well-told story. I really liked Amarynth, determined to make things right despite being out of her depth in a place where many more experienced people had failed before. She was much more doing the job because it needed to be done and she was the only one left than the more typical One Foretold by Prophecy, which I very much appreciated. While there’s no sexual content, because of the basic premise, there’s a lot of death. I was somewhat disturbed that nearly all of the dead people were very young, ranging from babies up to first-time mothers, with nary an old person ready to go among them (Amarynth’s grandfather is the one possible exception that I remember here.) I think in general, though, that most teens are much tougher than me about these things, and should deal with it just fine, especially since most of the dead spirits are introduced that way, rather than characters we care about. At only 144 pages, it’s a good choice for reluctant middle grade and high school readers.
Spirit Singer was originally self-published in 2002, when it won the Regina, Saskatchewan Book Award, and then picked up by Tyche Books and re-published in 2012. Their editors were sharp enough to track me down (maybe based on my interest in musical fantasy books) and send me a copy in exchange for an honest review. This will now be headed towards my library’s teen librarian.