Review: The Castings Trilogy by Pamela Freeman

My self from another reality, Ellie, gave these to me in the middle of NaNoWriMo. For two whole weeks, they sat on my shelf and taunted me. I devoured them in four days.

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Bramble is a wild girl, utterly at home in the forest but tied to civilisation by her family. Half Acton’s descendent – the man who led an invasion force into her land a thousand years ago and settled it – and half Traveller, the people who were dispossessed and subjugated by the invasion force, she is used to living between worlds. When events force her onto the Road, she enjoys the opportunity to explore her ¬†Traveller heritage. But she doesn’t realise how deeply her loyalties to both her peoples will be tested.

Ash is used to being useless. A child of talented musicians who can’t sing or play, a Traveller born, no-one wants to take him on as an apprentice. When Doronit agrees to train him as a safeguarder, his desire for her drives him further down a dangerous path. But how much will it take for him to break free?¬†

Saker lost his family, his whole village in an attack that he links directly to the invasion a thousand years ago. With the dark skills he has learned from the enchantress, he intends to raise the dispossessed dead into a force that will right all the wrongs of the past. But his actions will have far larger consequences, and Saker is not prepared to deal with what will come when he calls.

The local gods have many voices, and speak to many people. The Travellers have their secret gods, wild and dangerous and seductive. The ghosts that haunt Ash’s sight wait until they can move on to rebirth, until their purpose is complete. And the stonecasters read the future, but even they cannot see what is to come. In this world of gods and magic, the events that Acton’s people set in motion a thousand years ago will finally come to a cataclysmic conclusion.

There are three books in the Castings Trilogy, as you can see above, plus a stand-alone which I haven’t read but will definitely be grabbing, plus some short stories on Pamela’s website which you can find here. I’m reviewing them all together because I read them so quickly, and because I’d be tempted to reveal far too many spoilers if I went through them one by one!

What a gorgeous, wild, deadly world this is! Full of magic and chaos but never confusing, full of gods and prophecy but nothing is ever set in stone. There are so many characters in this series, but I never lost sight of who they all were. I felt their fear, their joy, their pain, their need to protect their loved ones, their awe of the gods. Vivid characterisation, heartfelt storytelling, and a masterful use of structure and time to tell a wonderfully complex story which encapsulates so many issues of the world today, but never sinks into preaching or moralising. It’s a fresh, new way of telling an ancient story, and I loved it.

One particularly lovely thing was that every couple of chapters or so, there was a brief chapter to tell the story of one of the side characters that we’d just met in passing. It made the world seem rich and full, and it was delicious to spot when these minor characters intersected in other places, outside the story. But when I reached the end, I realised that this structural decision was so much more significant than I had assumed. I can’t say why without spoiling the series, but trust me, it’s a gorgeous device and well worth the wait.

The main characters were all marvellously rich and complex, which reflected the wider message of the story – that no-one can possibly be wholly good or wholly evil, that no event can bring only positive or negative change. It’s an exercise in seeing other people, even complete strangers but especially your friends – and enemies! – as real people who have their own full, emotional lives. And the world that they inhabit is so full of danger and mystery and wonder. There are clearly so many more stories which could be told here, and I would read all of them. It only became a little frustrating in the second book, when so much of the book was given over to these – diverse and important – stories, while the main characters remained largely stationary. But the way that all of these stories come together in the final book is so rewarding, and I loved getting little glimpses into all of these other lives.

It seems to me to be a diverse cast in terms of race, culture and sexuality, with considerations given to each of these as to the social implications. And also in terms of age – this I think is what brings the series into the ‘adult’ category, along with some of the darker themes. While Bramble, Ash and several other characters are maybe teens and twenties, there are middle- and old-aged people, all brought to life with a great talent for characterisation. There are the frustrations of children and young adults, the fears of parents, the wisdom of grandparents, both blood-related and adopted. There are families of all shapes and descriptions, each with their own complex emotional connections. This is a full, fully realised cast, and I loved them all – Martine, Cael, Safred, Maryrose, Zel and Flax, Ash the younger, Baruch and even Acton himself. And that’s just a few! This is a great read which I would thoroughly recommend, and it taught me things about both reading and writing which I hope I will take forward.

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