This is the second book of Mary Victoria’s Chronicles of the Tree trilogy, following closely on the heels of Tymon’s Flight and preceding the final book Oracle’s Fire. As is always the case with middle installments, the story neither begins nor ends, though there is more scope for world-building, character development, and getting the disparate plot-threads in place for the final book.
The setting of the story is one of its most unique aspects, as the trilogy takes place in a giant tree. To the people that live upon and within its boughs, the Tree is all there is. Their culture and society are built around the tree’s life cycle, their religion revolves around concepts such as “the Sap,” and the lingo is marked by sayings such as “green grace!” Entire cities are built on various boughs and outcroppings, and the possibility of life existing outside the domains of the two main canopies is dismissed as a legend. Sometimes it’s difficult to visualize the sheer size of such a tree, but it certainly makes for an intriguing backdrop to the story.
In this world conflict is born out of religious discordance between the corrupt priests and a group of suppressed “heretics” who preach a different method of understanding the Tree that they all live upon. Pulling strings behind the two factions are certain individuals that are still shrouded in mystery as to their nature, motivation and ultimate goals — though they pose a terrifying threat as they manipulate the minds of the populace. At the heart of this controversy is the title’s namesake, a young woman called Samiha who is a religious leader prophesied to die as a martyr for the sake of her cause.
Despite the title, (and several chapters told from Samiha’s point of view) this is still Tymon’s book. Tymon has grown significantly from his persona in the previous book, where he was a young orphaned teenager caught up in revolutions largely beyond his control. Though he was already surprisingly proactive in his adventures, he now takes on more responsibilities, faces difficult decisions, and endures challenges of a physical, emotional and spiritual nature. There is no time wasted in establishing this darker tone, for within the first chapter Tymon is being forced to part from the woman he loves.
Tymon is reluctant to leave Samiha after just a few short weeks together, but having discovered that he has the latent power of a Grafter (a type of mystic that has the ability to communicate with the Tree itself), Tymon agrees to learn more about his abilities under the tutelage of the mysterious Oracle.
From there, things begin to go very wrong for our heroes. Samiha’s death at the hands of the Argosian priests has been predicted by Grafters for generations, and when she is arrested on charges of heresy, she is resigned to her fate. But when Tymon hears of this, he is naturally desperate to save her life, even if it means abandoning his studies and defying the prophecies that surround her.
Readers have a funny relationship with the use of prophecy and destiny in novels: on the one hand we expect things to happen as they’ve been foretold (at least to some degree), on the other we don’t expect characters to just bow unquestioningly to fate. In this case, the idea of fate and freewill becomes the central theme of Samiha’s Song as both Tymon and Samiha grapple with its presence in their lives. Mary Victoria has some interesting ideas about destiny, how mutable it is, and to what extent it should be embraced by its characters — at various points her protagonists fear it, rage against it, accept it and finally embrace it, though there is still room in the final volume to see just how their choices regarding their future will truly pan out.
There is a lot of exposition to get through concerning the spiritual and philosophical makeup of this world, but it’s interspersed with action sequences and political intrigue, keeping the pacing swift. Furthermore, there are several intriguing twists scattered throughout the narrative that keep you guessing and are sure to be resolved in the forthcoming third book.
Mary Victoria is good at blending the usual fantasy tropes with a level of ambiguity that allows for shades of grey in her worldview. Ultimately Samiha’s Song is less about good versus evil as it is corruption versus innocence, freedom versus conformity, trust and faith versus fear and hatred. As with many middle instalments, the story ends with the antagonists maintaining the upper hand, as well as a cliff-hanger that will have readers restless for the final book. Can’t wait!
Chronicles of the Tree — (2010-2011) Publisher: The World Tree rises up out of the seething clouds like a green mountain. All creation nestles in its green branches. There is no world besides this one… or so the people believe. Tymon grows up at Argos seminary in the lush heart of the Central Canopy, where science is a heretical pursuit and travel beyond the Tree is banned. But he yearns to break free of these rules and discover new horizons. When he meets a despised Nurian slave in the city baths, his dreams of freedomtake on a completely different meaning. Banished to a drought-ridden colony, Tymon falls in with a group of Nurian rebels and finds himself facing difficult choices. Fighting for freedom and power is not so enticing when it may mean betraying his own people and severing all ties to the world he knows…