A fantasy book with a bard as the main character. It’s technically first in a series but the next book has different characters and is set in a different country.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 410
Publisher: Daw

This series is set in a world where magic is done through the Kigh. The Kigh are essentially nature spirits and by asking them (Singing) to do something the bards can affect earth, air, water, and fire. Yup, the bards do magic; there’s no mentions of wizards or other magic users. You have to be born with the ability to see the Kigh. Most of the bards seem to see only one kind of Kigh, some see two kinds. The rarest are the people who see all four kinds. You can only Sing to Kigh you can see.

Annice was born as the youngest of King Mikus’ children but she was also born with the gift to Sing to all four Kigh. The King of Shkoder and his heir wanted to marry (called joining in this world and also same-sex couples can join) her for political reasons but the headstrong Annice found a way to force his father the king to promise her to the Bardic Hall instead. However, after the old King’s death the new King Theron, Annice’s brother, proclaimed that in order to become a bard Annice had to cut all ties to the royal family and she would be a traitor to the crown if she joined or had a child without first getting the King’s permission. Annice was 14 and eager to become a bard so she agreed.

Ten years later, Annice finds out that she’s pregnant. She loves her life wandering around the country and having casual sex with both men and women. She even has a steady girlfriend Stasya, who is also a bard. She’s never thought about having kids but when she’s confronted with the pregnancy, she realizes that she wants the child. The kid’s father is very handsome but otherwise arrogant, pigheaded, opinionated etc. so Annice decides not to even tell him and raise the kid with Stasya and the other bards. She also intends to keep the kid a secret from the king.

However, the kid’s father, Pjerin, is a duc in a distant but strategically important mountain keep, guarding a pass between Shkoder and the hostile Cemandia. Pjerin is very proud of the place and content to keep it as it is, but others aren’t. People close to Pjerin scheme to get him out of way so that they can cement an alliance with Cemandia and get rich on the profits. They frame him as a traitor and soon Pjerin is dragged to the capital in chains and Annice has to decide what she’s going to do.

This was lots of fun. Annice and Pjerin are so much alike that they get on each other’s nerves all the time; there’s no romance really between them. In fact, there’s no sex scenes in the book. I really liked most of the characters, and the world and the magic system were great.

However, the plot could have been resolved very soon if Annice could have just gotten over the hurt and anger she had towards Theron. So, the plot really sprang up from the characters and their past. Some people seem to hate that, but this time it fit. However, it did take away the tension somewhat. Huff also does a lot of POV shifts very quickly. It took me a while to get used to them. Often enough I don’t care for bickering characters but this time I liked them. I think this is the second time I’ve read a book where the main character is heavily pregnant most of the time. (Cordelia was pregnant with Miles in Barrayar.)

I really enjoyed the world building. Shkoder is a land where traveling bards bring news from one end of the country to the other. They’re also part of the justice system because they can use Command which compels the person to tell the truth. Also, in Shkoder, same-sex relationships are the equal of opposite-sex relationships: both raise kids and are completely normal. Bisexuality is also normal.

I love bards and would like to read more books with bards as main characters but they seem to be rather rare. The next book apparently has a brother and sister assassins as the main characters.