The Lesser Column

Book Review: Juliet Marillier Enters the YA Fantasy Realm With The Harp of Kings

(Photo of Juliet Marillier by Catriona Sparks, Creative Commons)

The Harp of Kings is a melding of past and present, introducing reality television tropes to the realm of fantasy. It’s distinctive, but safe enough for the merry throng of YA readers. (Ace Books, Penguin Random House)


The book arrives and it says that this is the latest from the author of the Sevenwaters series. Which, if you’re following along at home, means not a great deal to this little blue duck.

Having said that, there’s a lot to write home about in The Harp of Kings, the first in what promises to be a series of what’s being called “Warrior Bards” novels. Which makes sense once you get into it (the water’s fine … once you’re in the pool).

We have front-and-center of this tale one Liobhan (pronounced Luh-von), all of eighteen and what’s described as a “powerful singer and an expert whistle player.” She’s on a quest with a brother, a singer with a deft hand at harp playing. Liobhan wants to join an “elite warrior band” where she and bro head to compete for spots (Ye Olde Idol, one might presume; that, or Celtic Folklore’s Got Talent!), and when they find themselves in front of the judges – as it were – they’re embarking on a quest, because, as it happens, the musicians are also warriors and spies.

The mission is to find a valuable harp, which has a kind of placating, “bread and circuses” effect on the masses, by means of, should the harp not be played at the upcoming coronation, the would-be sovereign won’t be accepted and the people could revolt.


In the realm of fantasy writing, Marillier has got the bases covered and manages to write in distinct voices when the narrative switches between characters.


Is this a subtle dig at the role monarchy plays in subverting the masses? Is Marillier in her delicate prose doing Marx’s work in stirring up anti-establishment revolt among the YA throngs?

In short, no. It’s a book about mystical forces and heartbreak and choices and crown princes and stuff.

In the realm of fantasy writing, Marillier has got the bases covered and manages to write in distinct voices when the narrative switches between characters.

The strength of her central character comes to the fore when you feel a sense of excitement when one of Liobhan’s chapters begins – her perspective is the more interesting one.

The Harp of Kings is character-driven and very creative – fans of the genre, in the age group, will doubtlessly dig it.


Buy from Indiebound

Buy from Powell’s

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Barnes & Noble


The Lesser Column

The Lesser Column covers a broad spectrum of content. With a focus on film, we also publish reviews of music, books, TV shows, live theatre, and stand-up comedy, as well as occasional pieces of social and cultural commentary. Our reviews don’t give star ratings or "thumbs up/down" and come from a more personal perspective – why what’s on display affected us in the way it did, why it’s good or otherwise, how it fits in a broader cultural context. Here is where you come for informed opinion and analysis. People are often very selective about how and where they find themselves entertained, so we’re offering reasons why you should see, read, hear, and experience something beyond simply what it’s about.

Related posts