[download pdf] Sing the Four QuartersAuthor Tanya Huff – Mariahilff.de

To call the kigh was the height of bard's magic Only those born with the gift could learn to Sing these spirits of earth, air, fire and water into doing their bidding, and even someone as gifted as the Princess Annice must spend years studying at the Bardic Hall to truly master the Art And for Annice, one of those rare talents able to Sing the elemental spirits from each of the four quarters, the call of magic was too strong to be denied, even if it meant renouncing her royal blood and privilegesBut Annice might have made a different choice if she could have foreseen that ten years after she'd transferred her life and loyalties from the Royal Palace to the Bardic Hall, she'd find herself fleeing from the King's Guards For Annice was twice guilty of treason, first for imperiling the order of succession by becoming pregnant, and second for aiding the father of her unborn child, the Duc of Ohrid, to escape the palace dungeons and the sentence of death hanging over his headNow the fugitives' only hope lay in tracking down and bringing to justice the enemy who'd masterminded the Duc's downfall, a dangerous foe who had found a way to tie lies and truths together into a knot even the most powerful of Bardic spells could not unravel

10 thoughts on “Sing the Four Quarters

  1. Tim Tim says:

    I have a love for 80s and 90s fantasy that I just can’t quite reach for modern fantasy. Please don’t get me wrong, there several examples of modern fantasy novels I love (Joe Abercrombie may quickly be approaching my favorite fantasy author ever) but 80s and 90s fantasy has something special that modern fantasy doesn’t. I don’t quite know how to identify it. It’s almost seems more character based and more nerdy, as if the books were planned out by the author creating a D&D character that they REALLY liked and decided to Mary-Sue them to hell and back… and there’s something rather charming about that.

    In this case, Huff really wanted people to see bards as a bad-ass character class (something, which honestly, I agree with despite most people I know hating to play them). She creates a world where bards are pretty much key to our kingdom’s inner workings. They act as magic users, spies, scouts, town criers, living lie detectors and… well, they sing a good song in taverns as well. This is a world that is frankly fascinating and is built upon a fairly unique magic system. Songs can speak to what are essentially elementals and they respond based on the song’s tone Very few sing properly and even fewer can sing the four quarters as it’s called. Of course our Mary-Sue lead bard CAN sing all four!

    Okay, Mary-Sue may be a little bit strong as Huff proceeds to cripple her amazing skillset at the start of the book, because our lead character gets pregnant. This creates two interesting aspects to the book. First, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen pregnancy be a main focus in a fantasy novel before. It was refreshingly different (though I confess had I read this when I was on my biggest fantasy kick in the early 2000s, I probably would not have been as fascinated by this as I am now, having also fairly recently become a father). Second, it created a character who is “weakened” in the physical sense and magical sense in that she can now only sing one element and that’s earth (and also the one she was weakest in before). As someone who was used to being the best, she now has to be more cautious, and also think along different lines than she did before.

    This was different. This was unique. Add a strong enfaces on a quest feel rather than a focus on war (well… they are trying to prevent one, but war is not the focus) and you’ve got something so completely different than most 80s/90s fantasy, yet still keeping the same feel… sign me up! What’s not to love?

    Well for a start the characters. Our two main leads, Annice and Pjerin seemed to go out of their way to find new ways to annoy me. Some of the banter was amusing, but for the most part I felt like I was reading about two brats who were old enough to know better… and before anyone responds with “Oh Tim, don’t you know couples in 80s/90s fantasy novel always hate each other at first?” Well… the relationship here is a bit unique. While Pjerin and Annice did have a one-night stand (hence the pregnancy aspect), they’re not really a couple. Annice is in a pretty solid relationship with another bard named Stasya, who is completely okay with all this. There is no addressing her feelings on the pregnancy, which seems a bit odd. While bisexuality seems to be the norm here, and marriage is accepted from any combination of gender, the relationships are not really presented as open. Thus it seems a bit odd that Stasya’s opinion is in no way expressed.

    That little digression out of the way, the characters were mostly annoying, and those who weren’t annoying were sadly not built up enough. I literally liked every single bard we are introduced to in the novel more than our lead, and few of them get many pages and those who do are not given a fully fleshed out personality… yet all could have made a more intriguing protagonist.

    While this hurt the book a lot, the biggest problem is that the plot is mostly forgettable. While there are perils the characters face along the way, the biggest dilemmas get solved all fairly quickly and honestly very little happens during the main journey portion of the book. As much as I hate to say this, I highly suspect that if you asked me my thoughts on the book in one year, I’d remember it having interesting ideas and a great magic system, but wouldn’t be able to tell you much of what actually happens.

    While my complaints are fairly major, I still found myself surprisingly enjoying the book throughout. In fact, I felt a little bad complaining about them, as I found that when all is said and done, I really enjoyed the book. While aspects annoyed the hell out of me, I never found myself feeling like throwing it down. It was a relaxing read. A fun read and yes, a charming read. What it did well, it pulled off with style and was different enough while still keeping that 80s/90s feel I wanted. While I can’t give it the wholehearted recommendation I wanted to early on, I can still say it was a fun read and I will likely press on with the series at some point (partially because I got this in an omnibus with the other books and also because the second has different leads in the same world, so I won’t have to endure the same characters).

    A slightly generous 3/5 stars and a recommendation to old school fantasy fans who want something a bit different.

  2. Sarah (CoolCurryBooks) Sarah (CoolCurryBooks) says:

    Sing the Four Quarters is one of those books that I enjoyed reading but probably wouldn’t read again. If you’re looking for a warm, character driven fantasy story with a queer lead, you may very well want to read this one.

    Annice is a bard, able to work magic by singing to the kigh, the elemental spirits. She also has the rare gift of being able to sing to all four types of kigh. Only, she wasn’t always a bard. She was born a princess, and in following her dream she was exiled from her family. According to the terms set by her brother, she would not be considered royalty, and if she ever married or had children, she would be charged with treason for endangering the line of inheritance.

    Annice is totally fine with this. Then she gets pregnant, and she decides she wants to keep it. That’s already one potential charge of treason, but then she learns that the father of the child (who she wasn’t planning on being involved) has been arrested for treason and sentenced to be executed. Which means her pregnancy is now doubly treasonous. Only, she thinks he’s innocent, and she’s not about to let him be executed for something he didn’t do.

    The narrative doesn’t hew closely to Annice. Pjerin, the father or her child, receives quite a bit of page time, so you know from off the bat that he really is innocent and that he’s being framed as part of someone else’s treasonous scheme. It’s one of those stories where you see the villains plotting, so you know way more than the protagonists. You also know that Annice’s brother the king is unlikely to actually charge her with treason and that if she would only talk to him, the entire affair could be reconciled. This isn’t a spoiler. Literally everyone in the book knows this except for Annice, and they keep trying to tell her. It could have fallen into one of those very annoying plot devices where the characters won’t actually talk to each other… but in this case, I thought it fit with the characterization.

    I mentioned at the beginning of the review that Annice is queer. Specifically, she’s bisexual (word not used). She’s in a long term relationship with a lesbian woman who’s also a bard, but it’s an open relationship. Annice has flings with other people while she’s traveling around the country on her work as a bard. That, plus some sloppiness with birth control, led to her current situation. Oh, and I should also mention that Annice and her girlfriend remain an item through the book. The relationship with Pjerin isn’t romantic, which goes against almost every narrative expectations. The relationship arc isn’t Annice realizing, “Oh, I’m in love with him.” More like, “Oh, he’d actually be a good father and maybe I should try to figure out a co-parenting situation.”

    In terms of world building, there’s no sexism or homophobia present in Annice’s society. There’s gay, lesbian, and bi characters, and their sexuality is never an issue in terms of how they’re treated. If you like Laurie J. Mark’s Fire Logic, then this might be a good book for you. The lack of homophobia/sexism was probably the biggest world building appeal. Otherwise, everything seems fairly standard Western fantasy with elemental magic (uh, again fans of Fire Logic might like this or vice versa). There wasn’t anything really memorable about the culture or setting. Very generic.

    On the plus side, it is a warm book. Definitely not grimdark. The heroines and heroes might have flaws, but they’re good people. There’s some suffering but nothing that gets too bad. Everything turns out all right in the end. If you’re looking for a book that won’t emotionally drain you, then Sing the Four Quarters would be a good pick.

    That warmth is what made me enjoy Sing the Four Quarters, but I don’t know if it was enough to balance out the weaknesses I found with world building and plotting. I don’t regret reading it, but I won’t be picking up the sequel.

    Review from The Illustrated Page.

  3. Olga Godim Olga Godim says:

    Written over 20 years ago, this book withstood the passing of time amazingly well. It’s been one of my favorites since I first read it, and its allure hasn’t faded still. It remains one of my favorites even now, after countless re-reads and many new authors emerging into the genre of classic fantasy. I can’t find even one thing to complain about in this tale.

    The world
    In Shkoder, bards can see kigh, elemental creatures of air, fire, water, and earth. With their music and their Songs, the bards of Shkoder can command the kigh to do their bidding: carry messages across the land, ignite or extinguish fires, infuse the soil with fertility, or remove water from a flooded path. It is an utterly original concept of magic, and the stronger the bard, the more powerful he or she is with their elements. Some bards can command two or more elements. Annice can command all four: she Sings the four quarters.
    One of the most talented bards in the kingdom, she is also the most controversial: she was a princess before she became a bard, and in order to follow her bardic calling she was forced to renounce her rights to be part of the royal family. It all happened ten years ago, but the pain of her family’s rejection still smarts inside her. It still hurts.

    The protagonists
    Annice, the former princess, is one of the first lesbian fantasy protagonists in America. She is strong-willed and opinionated, she doesn’t suffer fools, and compromise doesn’t seem to belong in her vocabulary. She can’t forgive her brother, King Theron, for ordering her out of the family, but her loyalty to her friends and her country has no bounds.
    Pjerin, Duc of Ohrid, is a simple man by comparison. An alpha male, stubborn and arrogant, he loves his distant, impoverished mountain principality and he adores his four-year-old son. He doesn’t have time nor inclination for a wife, neither he cares about money. His stone fortress guards the only pass through the mountains that separates the smaller Shkoder from the much larger and aggressive Cemandian empire, and Pjerin would give his life protecting the pass from any invader.

    The plot
    Ten years ago, when Theron banished Annice from the Palace, he declared that to become a bard she must forfeit all her princess’s rights, including the right to have children. If she did, it would be considered treason, punishable by death. As Annice was/is a lesbian (mostly), she accepted his conditions with lofty unconcern, but now, after a chance encounter with Duc of Ohrid, she realizes she is pregnant. Was her brother serious in his pronouncement ten years ago? Would he go through with his threats and execute her and her baby for treason? They haven’t met nor talked after that fateful day. She can’t really believe he would have her killed, especially because her pregnancy was an accident, but how could she risk her innocent baby’s life?
    The Duc has troubles of his own. Framed by his enemies as a traitor, he must clear his name before it is too late.
    Their two lives intersected only once, resulting in a baby, and now both are fugitives, dodging the king’s guards and trying to figure out how to clear Pjerin’s name and what will happen to their baby. And they don’t even like each other.

    The impressions
    The story flows swiftly, like rapids of a mountain river, with unexpected plot twists at every turn, and the reader frets together with Annice: how can she keep her baby safe?
    Funny that personality-wise, I liked neither Annice nor Pjerin. Both are too pigheaded for my taste, but I definitely respected them both, and my deep sympathy ran with them. I wanted them and their yet unborn baby safe. I wanted them to vanquish their enemies and triumph over all adversities. I was a silent partner in their madcap escapades, and I enjoyed every minute I spent in their company.
    A wonderful story.

  4. Shiloh Shiloh says:

    Annice is a bard, formerly a princess, with the threat of treason over her head should she ever bear a child. When she discovers that Pjerin, father of her unborn child, also faces a charge of treason--for a different reason--she cannot believe that he is guilty. In order to clear his name and protect her baby, she smuggles him out of the dungeon and they set off on a cross-country trek to discover who is truly behind the treason.

    As with most Tanya Huff books, this one is nearly flawless. Huff writes believable, developing characters, snappy dialogue, and fast-paced, well-constructed plots. Annice and Pjerin have chemistry without being sappy and go from outright strangers who hardly like each other to friends as they travel.

    The thing about the Quarters novels that I find the most interesting is the sexuality. Bisexuality is the norm in the Quarters world and goes utterly unremarked narratively throughout the series. No explanation, excuse, or apology is offered, leaving the reader to deal with it--or not--as he or she will. Considering this novel was published in 1994, I'm sure this was incredibly progressive for its time, and may still be a step beyond what most people are immediately comfortable with. But the relationships, regardless of the pairings, are beautiful when built on love and trust and horrible when built on selfishness and greed, just like any relationship. I believe that Huff's skill as a writer and care with constructing her world allows for a much smoother mental transition for her readers than might otherwise be possible.

  5. charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow) charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow) says:

    Review also on Reads Rainbow

    Rep: bi mc, lesbian li, gay side character

    There’s something to be said for the kind of understated fantasy that this book is. The conflict here primarily revolves around family. Yes, there is a subplot regarding a battle between two countries, but it’s mostly about family. And understated fantasy books about family like this are my favourites. Sure, big bombastic fantasies are great, but there’s something more you get with understatement.

    And because it’s more understated, I guess I felt more of a connection with the characters. I don’t know how best to explain it really. I think it comes down to this: it’s a more character-driven fantasy, so I fell for the characters more. If you know me and my attention span, that’s a very rare statement (most of the time, I have neither the attention nor the patience to get through character-driven books). So that this one stuck? That’s a good sign.

    It also helped that I already knew I enjoyed Tanya Huff’s books (The Fire’s Stone is another good one, just…FYI). So this, and it’s found family, was always going to be something I liked. It was a bit of a slow start, to be fair, but I got into it. And really liked it.

  6. anna (½ of readsrainbow) anna (½ of readsrainbow) says:

    (Almost) Read for the Reads Rainbow Book Club.

    Let me get something straight first: this is in no way a bad or even mediocre book.

    So if I say this, why haven’t I finished it? Well, see. I tried. I actually kept trying and trying. I got to like one third of the book, give or take. And all I have to say for myself is that I’m apparently not a fantasy fan any longer. Or at least, a fan of fantasy books that are focused on the world a lot & depict it in great detail but also just throw the reader into the high waters and don’t bother to explain stuff.

    I used to take that as a compliment, as the author saying ‘you’re smart enough, you can figure it out yourself!’. That’s a great sentiment, sure, but I learned that what I’m here for in books are characters and their emotions. I can piece together the world for myself if I care deeply enough about the characters, if I want to know as much about them as possible. Which wasn’t really the case here. I don’t know, my guys! I just didn’t connect with them!

    So here I am, kind of disappointed with myself for loosing interest in a genre I used to LOVE as a teen, kind of disappointed in the book for not holding my interest for longer, kind of disappointed with my attention span (as always).

  7. Alealea Alealea says:

    Why there is only four stars ? I guess I have to reread it and answer that

    Edited 13/12/2017
    Ok, it's a five. Yep, there are some minor elements that could have been done better.
    Mainly the villain. Why is she cougarish ? And I wish her ambition had been shown in a way more... more... more... something. But that's me nitpicking.

    Because here you have a fantasy story that is not about love, or betrayal of cosmic proportion or war. Even if we do have love, betrayal and war.

    It's just when you say love, you expect heterosexual couple ...
    and here you have lots and lots of love, but it's not the falling in eternal love usual trope.
    We have fraternal love, arranged married couple quiet love, a same sex polyamourous couple of ten years love, father and son love, vocation love, etc...

    Here, the main characters are not a couple (even if they had an enjoyable tumble resulting with a baby... oups). They don't even like each other mostly but the adventure enable them to get a grudging respect, as much as two pigheaded people who just happens to have made baby together can.

    And we have pregnancy.
    Being pregnant here is not about a prophetic child coming in the world. It's about being sick, being full of hormones, being changed but still being oneself.
    It's also about society acting like a baby is a social property and you can touch a woman's belly without asking. Well no ! dah.

    And so, and so, and so many little things that make a whole so perfect.

    So yeah, definetely a five-stars all around.

    It's the kind of book, the more I read it, the more I like it.

    Edit Jan 2019
    I love reading this book. I also loved listening to it this week. Some details that didn't stuck out as much when reading where made quite clear by the narrator's voice.
    Mainly, the love between characters, and the pain they inflicted each other, and so on, was top notch.
    I also really like the way the narrator made kids voices. ^^

  8. Juushika Juushika says:

    A bard returns to the capital to find herself the wildcard in a political plot. Huff's balance of gratifying character dynamics, distinctive characterization, and easy-reading action/political plots has grown on me. She's not a strong technical writer, and this isn't flawlessly balanced--there's some subplots here which I could do without; nor flawlessly written--her penchant for headhopping muddies the narrative and means spending time in poorer-rendered antagonist PoVs. But it's satisfying. Queer characters! immediate immersion into the world! successful marriage of character arcs to plot developments! It's engaging and rewarding stuff. I'm reminded of Tamora Pierce's Emelan books, despite their different intended audience; they feel as good, share similar elements, and I appreciate the focus on the local, non-mythic world.

  9. Jeremy Preacher Jeremy Preacher says:

    I've read enough fantasy involving music-based magic that it was neat to see it treated as magic, not music. Music theory is interesting, I suppose, but not always what I want a lecture on.

    This also may be the first fantasy novel I've ever read where the main character's pregnancy is central to the plot for the entire book. And one of the very few where the bi woman and her lesbian partner don't end up splitting up so the bi chick can end up with the dude. (Or where the lesbian dies.) This is why I love Tanya Huff.

    Political issues aside, this is a solid middlebrow fantasy along the lines of the Valdemar series, with less wish-fulfillment and more fundamental queer-friendliness. Right up my alley.

  10. Elizabeth Elizabeth says:

    This was a lovely story and very progressive for something written in the 1980’s. I really enjoyed it. Thank you Allison & Katie for the recommendation!